Story by: Maj. Amber Ritenour, IACH
For more than two decades, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month has educated women about breast cancer. The awareness campaign stresses the importance of detecting the disease in its earliest stages. It makes women aware of the screening standards and encourages women of the appropriate age to undergo screening mammography and clinical breast examination.
Breast cancer is a very large health issue among women in this country. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer. The American Cancer Society's most recent estimates for breast cancer in the U.S. for 2011 are 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer in women; 57,650 new cases of carcinoma in situ; and 39,520 deaths from breast cancer.
The chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer sometime during her life is a little less than one in eight. The chance of dying from breast cancer is about one in 35. Breast cancer death rates have been going down and are probably the result of finding the cancer earlier and better treatment. Right now, there are more than 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S.
Breast cancer, like all cancer, occurs when cells do not follow the rules of the body. Normally, cells are produced under close surveillance by the body, live a certain amount of time and then they die. Cancer cells have a mutation, which allows them to have uncontrolled growth or to live much longer than normal. This process leads to an excessive amount of tissue in that area, which represents a tumor.
Tumors are divided into two separate groups. There are benign tumors, not cancer, and there are malignant tumors, cancer. The primary goal in evaluating a growth or tumor is to determine if it is cancer or not. If it is not cancer, the tumor can be removed, and there is no threat the tumor cells have spread. If it is cancer, then there is a risk the abnormal cells have spread to other places in the body, therefore, removing the tumor will not rid the body of all the abnormal cells. It is the chance of spread that results in the need for chemotherapy, which circulates throughout the entire body, in order to remove these abnormal cells.
There are identifiable factors that have been proven to increase an individual's risk of developing breast cancer. Risk factors include a Family history of breast cancer, mainly first-degree relatives, like a mother or sister; multiple breast biopsies for abnormalities; and, exposure to radiation, other than routine x-rays.
Other risk factors deal with a prolonged state of estrogen stimulation/activity, like early menarche – the age a period starts; number and/or age of pregnancies – estrogen levels decrease during pregnancy; taking hormone replacement, long term, like 10 to 20 years; and, obesity – fat cells produce estrogen.
In summary, breast cancer is a very common condition among women in the U.S. If detected early, the overall prognosis is excellent, with the majority of women living disease-free for many years. It is important to be aware of what the proper screening is in relation to age. Through screening, hopefully, breast cancer can be detected at its earliest stages, giving someone the best chance for a long, happy, fulfilling life.
The American Cancer Society recommendations for early breast cancer detection are:
• Women age 40 and older should have a screening mammogram every year and should continue to do so for as long as they are in good health.
• Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam as part of a periodic regular health exam by a health professional, preferably every three years. After age 40, women should have a breast exam by a health professional every year.
• Breast self examination is an option for women starting in their 20s. Women should be told about the benefits and limitations of breast self examination. Women should report any breast changes to their health professional right away.
• Women at an increased risk should talk with their doctors about the benefits and limitations of starting mammograms when they are younger, having additional tests, like a breast ultrasound or MRI, or having more frequent exams.
In support of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Irwin Army Community Hospital will have a breast cancer awareness display of informational handouts and a "Breast Cancer Remembrance Tree" in the main lobby during the month of October.
For more information about NBCAM, visit www.NBCAM.org. For additional information, call one of the following toll free numbers: American Cancer Society, 1-800-227-2345, National Cancer Institute (NCI), 1-800-4-CANCER or contact a health care provider.
The National Breast Cancer Awareness Month program is dedicated to increasing public knowledge about the importance of early detection of breast cancer. Fifteen national public service organizations, professional associations and government agencies comprise the Board of Sponsors, who work together to ensure the NBCAM message is heard by thousands of women and their Families.