St. Lukes Medical Center
Thomas McKim Plastic Surgeon

Breast Cancer Awareness

Breast cancer is a disease that mainly affects women and is most often discovered as a lump.

Written by Barbara Smith

Breast cancer is a disease that mainly affects women and is most often discovered in the form of a lump on the breast. Most lumps that are found in women’s breasts are benign, meaning that they’re not cancerous or life threatening. When a tumor turns out to be malignant, however, it can be life threatening. Physicians estimate that breast cancer will soon be the most common form of cancer. The mortality rate of women with breast cancer has been decreasing over the last several years though, thanks in part to awareness programs.

Treatment methods usually include radiation and chemotherapy treatments as well as surgical removal of part of or all of the breast tissue. Women whose relatives have breast cancer are at risk of developing it themselves. It’s important that you begin checking your own breasts when you turn 20 and have regular mammograms performed after the age of 30.

Early Detection

Breast cancer is the second most fatal cancer in women. Many of these deaths could be prevented if had been found early enough. Women should follow a three-point breast cancer detection program including monthly breast self-exam, an annual breast exam by a health care professional, and mammography (muh-mah-gra-fee). Most breast cancers are first found by women themselves. This is why monthly, breast self-exam is crucial. By learning what is normal for her own breast, a woman is more likely to notice changes or anything unusual. Proper breast self-exam includes looking at and around the breast area, as well as the arm pit for changes and feeling for lumps, thickening, or nipple discharge. It takes only a few minutes and could be a lifesaver. Annual breast exams by a health care professional are recommended. Women with a family history of breast cancer should ask their doctor if they need a more frequent monitoring plan. Mammograms are special, low-dose X-rays that can detect many breast cancers at a very early stage before they can be felt. The American Cancer Society recommends a mammogram every year or two from age forty to fifty, and one a year after age fifty. For more information about breast cancer detection, consult your health care provider.

Know The Signs

The earlier breast cancer is found and treated, the better a woman’s chances for recovery. In some cases, early detection may also allow treatment options that let a woman keep her breast and have a lumpectomy (lum-pec-toe-me) rather than have the breast removed with a mastectomy (mas-tec-to-me). Warning signs of breast cancer include a lump or thickening in the breast or armpit. Other symptoms include a change in the size or shape of the breast; discharge or liquid coming from the nipple; or a change in the color or texture of the skin of the breast or the darker area around the nipple (such as dimpling, puckering, or scaliness). If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Women are at higher risk of breast cancer if they have a family history of breast cancer, such as a mother or sister who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, or if they have had cancer in one breast already. Although it is rare in women under age thirty-five, all women should perform a monthly self-exam. Other risk factors include having your first menstrual period before age twelve, menopause after age fifty-five, having your first child after age thirty, never having children, and a personal history of ovarian or endometrial (endo-mee-tree-ul) cancer. For more information about breast cancer, consult your health care provider.

Article Reviewed: July 5, 2012
Copyright © 2014 Healthy Magazine

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