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October: National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Education can be key to preventing, diagnosing breast cancer

Each year, nearly 200,000 women and 2,000 men in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer, making it one of the most common types of cancer among women in our country.

"While there is no way of guaranteeing that a person won't develop breast cancer, there are certainly steps that can be taken to reduce risk," says Jeffrey McClellan M.D., Medical Director of Radiology at Castleview Hospital. "Learning to recognize the symptoms of breast cancer, understanding what puts a person at a high risk of developing the disease, and actively monitoring breast health can be key."

What Are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer?

In its early stages, breast cancer often has no symptoms. However, the following symptoms may be present as a tumor develops:

A lump in the breast or underarm that persists after your menstrual cycle

A marble-like area under the skin

Swelling in the armpit

Persistent breast pain or tenderness

Any change in the size, contour, texture or temperature of the breast

A noticeable flattening or indentation on the breast

A change in the nipple, such as an indrawn or dimpled look, itching or burning sensation, or ulceration

Unusual discharge from the nipple

Who Is at Risk of Developing Breast Cancer?

Women with a history of breast cancer have a 3- to 4-times increased risk of developing a new breast cancer, unrelated to the first one, in the other breast or in another part of the same breast.

Women with a family history of breast cancer. Having a mother, sister or daughter who has (or has had) breast cancer increases your risk for developing the disease. The risk is even greater if your relative had cancer in both breasts or developed the breast cancer before menopause.

Women over age 50. About 77 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer each year are over age 50, and almost half are age 65 and older.

Women with a previous breast biopsy result of atypical hyperplasia, or those with a previous abnormal breast biopsy indicating fibroadenomas with complex features, hyperplasia without atypia, sclerosing adenosis and solitary papilloma.

Carriers of alterations in either of two familial breast cancer genes called BRCA1 or BRCA2.

Caucasian women are at a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer than are African-American, Asian, Hispanic and Native American women.

Women who have their first child after age 35 or never have children.

Women who started menstruating before age 12.

Women who begin menopause after age 55.

Overweight women, with excess caloric and fat intake (especially post-menopause).

Women who have 2 to 5 alcoholic beverages a day are 1.5 times more likely to develop breast cancer than women who drink no alcohol.

Those exposed to excessive amounts of radiation, especially before age 30.

Women who use Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for an extended period of time. (Risk seems to return to that of the general population after discontinuing use for five years or more.)

Those with other cancer in the family. A family history of cancer of the ovaries, cervix, uterus or colon increases your risk of developing breast cancer.

What Steps Can Be Taken to Prevent Breast Cancer?

"Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can prove powerful in preventing breast cancer. It's important to eat right, stay active and maintain a healthy weight," says Dr. McClellan. "Women should also perform breast exams at home every month and make annual exams with their gynecologists a priority. Most importantly, if you notice a change in your breast, talk to your doctor immediately. Like most forms of cancer, early diagnosis and treatment can be critical."

Screening mammograms should begin at age 40 and become part of the annual health exam.

Unfortunately, Utah is lowest in the USA for breast cancer screening.

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