3 tips for early detection of breast cancer
By Katie Coakley, brought to you by Kaiser Permanente.
You might have seen those pink ribbons popping up around town. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, designed to not only help those affected with the disease through early detection, education and support services, but also to increase awareness of the disease.
The facts are startling. About one in eight women in the United States (about 12 percent) will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society. While the risk for men is less, about one in 1,000 men will develop breast cancer, it’s still a risk. And while death rates have been decreasing since 1999, approximately 40,450 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2016 from breast cancer.
However, there is hope. Not only has the overall death rate decreased, but fewer women under 50 have died due to breast cancer. These decreases are thought to be the result of treatment advances, earlier detection through screening and increased awareness.
To help continue the increased awareness and education, Dr. Shannon Garton, family medicine physician at the Kaiser Permanente Edwards Medical Offices, discussed these facts about breast cancer and how to practice early detection.
1. Get screened
There was a time when women were told to conduct self-examination on a monthly basis. That advice has changed. Now, it is recommended to practice “Breast Self Awareness.” If a woman notes any of the following changes, according to the Komen website, they are to notify their doctor.
- Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
- Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
- Change in the size or shape of the breast
- Dimpling or puckering of the skin
- Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
- Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
- Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
- New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away
- If skin changes are noticed in the area of the breast, a physician should evaluate that person.
While being aware of changes in your body is important, it’s not the most powerful tool in early detection.
“Breast self exam is not as effective as a mammogram in detecting breast cancer,” Garton said. “It is very important for women to have mammograms done at the recommended intervals.”
Garton said that women will typically begin to have mammography starting at 40, every one to two years. A clinical breast self exam should be done once every three years.
2. The truth about mammograms
While a mammogram is not something that you’d want to do weekly, there’s no reason to be nervous.
Garton explained that a mammogram is not a risky procedure, but there can be false positive test result, which may lead to further intervention, such as a biopsy. And while there are other tools, such as a breast MRI, it’s not typically used as a screening tool except in rare cases. If there is a genetic risk of cancer at a young age, or if a patient is being evaluated for possible recurrence of cancer, these might be situations where a breast MRI is ordered.
3. Lifestyle matters
While there’s no sure way to avoid breast cancer, there are elements that can make a difference.
“It is important that women be aware that healthy lifestyle choices can reduce the risk of breast cancer,” Garton said. “Maintaining a healthy weight and limiting alcohol use reduces the risk. Breast feeding also reduces risk and limiting time of hormonal therapy after menopause reduces risk.”
It’s important to remember that breast cancer is an area of ongoing study, and further knowledge as to risk, screening and treatment will continue to evolve. However, educating yourself is the first step.