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October is breast cancer awareness month
Health advice
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It has been interesting to see NFL players dressed in pink recently for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Some Pittsburgh players even have pink shoes. Judging from the size of the players, I can’t imagine anyone would dare tease them about it. The NFL should be applauded for its support and promotion of preventive health initiatives.
Breast cancer is the most common malignancy in women and the second leading cause of cancer deaths. The incidence of breast cancer has been increasing steadily from one in every 20 women in 1960 to one in eight women today. According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 192,370 new cases of invasive breast cancer likely will be diagnosed among women in the United States this year. An estimated 40,170 women are expected to die from the disease. Today, there are about 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.
Breast cancer is not exclusively a women’s disease — for every 100 women with breast cancer, one male will develop the disease. While the incidence of breast cancer is low in women in their 20s, it gradually increases, plateaus at age 45 and increases dramatically after age 50. Fifty percent of breast cancer is diagnosed in women older than 65, indicating the necessity of yearly screenings at every age.
Like most cancers, breast cancer is an uncontrolled growth of cells that has the potential to break through normal breast tissue and spread to other parts of the body. Although cancer is caused by a genetic abnormality, only 5-10 percent of cancers are inherited from parents. Instead, 90 percent of breast cancers are due to genetic abnormalities that result from the aging process and life in general.
Breast cancer takes years to develop and usually has no symptoms in the beginning. When detected in the localized stage before it spreads to lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 97 percent. If the cancer has spread regionally to underarm lymph nodes, the rate drops to 76 percent. And if the abnormal growth has spread to other organs, such as the lungs, bone marrow, liver, or brain, the five-year survival rate is 20 percent.
Signs of breast cancer may include an immobile lump, tenderness, discomfort or a “pulling sensation,” dimpled or puckered skin, discharge from the nipple, change in shape or size of the breast or swelling of the skin, thickened breast tissue, pain or redness of the skin, sore or retracted nipple, and sores on the breast that do not clear up after two weeks of treatment.
A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of getting a disease. But identifying these factors doesn’t mean a person will get the disease. Some women who develop breast cancer had no known risk factors. The only line of defense is to give yourself monthly breast self-exams and get clinical breast exams and mammograms.
Risk factors:
• Gender: More than 99 percent of breast cancer cases develop in women, but they do occur in men.
• Aging: Our risk increases, as we grow older. Roughly 77 percent of women with breast cancer are older than 50 when diagnosed.
• Family history: If your mother, sister or daughter has been diagnosed, your risk factor is roughly doubled.
• Race: White women have a slightly higher chance of developing breast cancer than African-American women. Asian, Hispanic and American Indian women have lower risks.
• Menstruation: Women who started menstruating early (before age 12) or who go through menopause late (after 50) have a slightly higher risk.
• History: If you’ve had cancer in one breast or have had benign tissue removed, you’re at a higher risk.
Lifestyle risk factors:
• Oral contraceptive use: The American Cancer Society states that some studies now show that using the pill for more than 10 years might increase a woman’s risk factor.
• Not breastfeeding: Breastfeeding your children may decrease your risk.
• Not having children or waiting to have children until after age 30 may decrease your risk.

Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.
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