With greater awareness of and better treatment methods for breast cancer, more women are surviving breast cancer today than 20 years ago. Since 1985, the American Cancer Society has designated October as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As a result, the Journal of Health Economicsreported in 2011that National Breast Cancer Awareness Month has increased public awareness and promoted early detection of breast cancer.
Dr. Paul Dale is the medical director of Ellis Fischel Cancer Center and chief of the surgical oncology division of the University of Missouri School of Medicine. He has been a surgical oncologist for 20 years, and about 70 percent of his clinical practice is with patients who have breast diseases. Dale discusses the risks women face, as well as the prevention methods and research available to further public knowledge of the disease.
According to Cancer Treatment Centers of America, risk factors for breast cancer include gender, age, family history, body and lifestyle. Men can be diagnosed with breast cancer, but the risk is 100 times higher for women. Women who are older are more likely to be diagnosed — only 10 to 15 percent of breast cancer diagnoses occur in women younger than 45. Family history of breast cancer means a higher risk, especially if these cases are with an immediate family member. Obesity, high breast density, heavy drinking and a sedentary lifestyle also contribute to cancer risks.
Both Dale and the American Cancer Society recommend that women 40 years and older have a mammogram every year. Mammograms and ultrasounds are commonly used to examine the breast. A clinical breast exam is an examination of the breast by a doctor or nurse. The exam should happen every three years for women in their 20s and 30s. Beginning in their 20s, women should perform a breast self-exam regularly to check for lumps and changes in breast tissue. Women with high risks should have both a mammogram and an MRI every year. According to Dale, breastfeeding your children, physical activity and a low-fat diet all help with overall health as well as a lower the risk for breast cancer.
Through genetic research, two genes have been found that are associated with both ovarian and breast cancer. These genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, put women at a higher risk of developing breast cancer. For women with this high risk of breast cancer, a double mastectomy is an option. The procedure does not carry a 100 percent guarantee, however.
After determining her 80 percent or higher risk for developing breast cancer, actress, director and writer Angelina Jolie opted for a double mastectomy. Dale has patients who have chosen this preventive surgery as well because, he says, these women don’t want to live in fear.
“I think that it is the right decision for them,” Dale says. He says the surgery is a big decision to make but most of his patients are happy with their choice.
Although breast cancer is a scary topic, Dale says the treatment techniques available today offer a good chance to overcome breast cancer. He says the most important thing to know about the disease is that “85 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer today are going to live a good, long life and not die from breast cancer … You’re going to be OK with the right treatment as long as you can find it early.”
According to Bright Pink, a nonprofit organization that focuses on risk reduction and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer, a woman should see a doctor if any of the following happen:
A lump that may feel like a frozen pea
Swelling, soreness or rash
Warmth, redness or darkening
Changes in size or shape of either breast
Dimpling or prickling of the skin
Itchy, scaly sore or rash around the nipple
Nipple that becomes flat or inverted
New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away
Bumps that resemble bug bites
Remember to perform self-exams every month. Sign up for text reminders from Bright Pink atwww.brightpink.org.