TINA STEVENS: Women: Take charge of your health by getting a mammogram

By Tina Stevens

It is that time of year again. Fall is here, the weather is cooler, everyone is beginning to think about the holidays, and pink ribbons are everywhere.
Every October, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, healthcare providers strongly encourage women to get their mammograms and educate themselves about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, except skin cancers. The chance of a woman developing an invasive breast cancer in her lifetime is a little less than one in eight, or 12 percent. The ACS’ latest estimates for breast cancer for 2011 are:
• About 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed.
• About 57,650 new cases of carcinoma in situ, or non-invasive breast cancer, will be diagnosed.
• About 39,520 women will die from breast cancer.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death in women, but progress has been made. Death rates have been declining since about 1990, a direct result of early detection, increased awareness and improved treatment options.
Breast cancer is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the breast tissue. Breast cancers typically form in two areas of the breast, the ducts or the lobules. A few breast cancers begin in other tissues of the breast. Breast cancers most commonly occur in women, but men are not immune.
The causes of breast cancer are not fully understood. No one knows exactly what causes breast cancer, but certain factors have been identified that can raise a person’s risk. Being female is the No. 1 risk factor for developing breast cancer, followed by getting older, genetics or family history and race, among others. Risk factors are not necessarily causes of breast cancer but are associated with an increased chance of developing breast cancer.
reduce your risk
While there is no sure way to prevent breast cancer, there are steps that help reduce the risk. Some examples are to stop smoking, limit alcohol intake, maintain a healthy lifestyle and weight, and exercise regularly.
Be proactive with your health. Along with following the screening guidelines for breast cancer, be aware of unusual breast changes that may occur. Watch for swelling, skin irritation or dimpling, pain, nipple retraction or discharge, redness, scaliness, or thickening and a lump in the breast or underarm.
Most importantly, follow breast cancer detection guidelines. Early detection is the best plan. The ACS and Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation recommend yearly mammograms, clinical breast exams and breast self-exams as tools for early detection of breast cancer.
Breast cancer is a terrible diagnosis to hear for the person and their friends and family. There may be no sure way to prevent breast cancer, but there is much you can do. Continue to follow screening guidelines, and help educate other women on the importance of early detection. Take action for you, your family and friends.
Registered nurse Tina Stevens is a breast health specialist with the NMMC Breast Care Center.