Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a great time to educate women and men about the importance of early detection of breast cancer. Monthly breast self-exams, clinical breast exams performed by a doctor, and mammograms are three tools women can use to detect breast cancer early, when it can be treated more successfully.
Breast cancer is sometimes found after symptoms appear, but many women with early-stage breast cancer have no symptoms. This is why getting the recommended screening tests done before any symptoms develop is so important. Many women are reluctant to have a mammogram because of the fear of cancer. Today, women who are diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer have a five-year survival rate of more than 90 percent.
Breast cancer affects men as well. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 231,800 cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed this year in women, and nearly 2,350 cases in men.
Breast changes are very common. Most breast changes are not cancer. But it is very important to get the follow-up tests that your health care provider asks you to get.
While 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer during her lifetime, only 37 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native women get mammograms. Why is this number so low? Mammography is an excellent tool to find breast changes in most women who have no signs of breast cancer. A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast tissue. During a mammogram, each breast is pressed between two plastic plates. X-ray pictures are taken from different angles of each breast. Some discomfort is normal, but if it’s painful, tell the x-ray technician.
Mammograms can show lumps, calcifications and other changes in your breast, and they can find tiny tumors that are too small to feel. However, mammography may not detect all breast cancers. See your health care provider if you feel a lump that was not seen on a mammogram or notice any other breast changes.
Warning Signs of Breast Cancer
You can help safeguard your health by learning the following warning signs of breast cancer:
A breast lump that may or may not be painful.
- A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area. Lumps come in different shapes and sizes. Most lumps are not cancer.
- A change in the size or shape of the breast.
- Tenderness or unusual discharge from the nipple.
- A change in the appearance of the nipple.
- A change in the texture of the skin of the breast.
If you see any of these signs, don’t ignore them—see your doctor. Most often they are not cancer, but it’s important to check with the doctor so that any problems can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.
Women who are at increased risk of breast cancer should talk with their health care provider about whether to begin getting mammograms before age 40 and how often to have them.
Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get breast cancer. Most women with risk factors never develop breast cancer.
Age: The older you are, the greater your risk for breast cancer.
Weight: Being obese or overweight.
Having no children, or having your first child in your mid-30s or later.
Having your first period before age 12.
Diet and lifestyle: lack of physical activity, a diet high in saturated fat, and alcohol intake of more than two drinks per day. Drinking alcohol in any form raises your cancer risk.
Heavy smoking: Women who start smoking before their first pregnancy are at highest risk.
Family history: A family history of breast cancer, especially in a mother, sister or a daughter, increases your risk.
Exposure to x-rays: Women who have a history of x-rays and/or radiation treatments (chest-area radiation treatments during childhood or early adulthood) are at higher risk for developing breast cancer.
Some women believe that as they age, health problems are simply due to “growing older.” Because of this myth, many illnesses go undiagnosed and untreated. Don’t ignore your symptoms because you think they are not important or because you believe they are normal for your age. Talk to your doctor.
Today there are nearly 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States alone. Breast cancer survivors are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, remember that you are not alone. Follow your health care provider’s instructions and lean on friends and loved ones for support. Take someone with you while you are learning about your testing and treatment choices. Ask your health care provider to explain medical terms that are new or confusing.
Today, your chances for overcoming breast cancer and returning to an active and full life are the best they’ve ever been. Talk with the women in your life and let them know that mammograms save lives. Take time to care for yourself and those who need you. Women can reduce their risk of postmenopausal breast cancer by being physically active, staying at a healthy weight, not drinking alcohol, and choosing to breastfeed their babies.
Are you due for another mammogram? Or maybe it’s time you scheduled your first mammogram. The next Mammogram Clinic is going to be held in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community on December 3. Call Community Health Representative Deborah Robinson at (480) 362-7329 or (480) 570-5276 to schedule an appointment.