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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Health advice
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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the month started with a bang as researchers at the University of Nottingham in Great Britain announced studies have shown not all breast cancers are the same.
On Oct. 3, researchers provided scientific results showing they had identified six types of the disease — each with widely differing survival rates. These findings could contribute greatly to improving mortality rates as it will now be possible to diagnose the specific type of cancer and to target specialized treatments.
While mortality rates in the United States are currently 24 percent lower than they were 17 years ago, — thanks to recent advancements in diagnostic and treatment tools — breast cancer is still the most common cancer in women in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, it’s estimated 178,480 women in the U.S. will be found to have invasive breast cancer in 2007 and about 40,460 women will die from the disease this year.

Not exclusive to women
Breast cancer is not exclusively a disease of women — for every 100 women with breast cancer, one male will develop the disease. While the incidence of breast cancer is very low in women in their twenties, it gradually increases and then plateaus at the age of 45 and increases dramatically after age 50.
Fifty percent of breast cancers are diagnosed in women over 65, indicating the ongoing necessity of yearly screening throughout women’s lives.
Like most cancers, breast cancer is an uncontrolled growth of cells that has the potential to break through normal breast tissue barriers and spread to other parts of the body. Although cancer is always caused by a genetic “abnormality” (a “mistake” in the genetic material), only 5-10 percent of cancers are inherited from your mother or father. Instead, 90 percent of breast cancers are due to genetic abnormalities that happen as a result of the aging process and life in general.

Self exams
In addition to yearly physician clinical and monthly self-examinations, mammograms (x-ray examination of the breast) are used in women without breast complaints. The goal of screening mammography is to detect cancer when it is still too small to be felt by the woman or her physician. Early detection of small breast cancers by screening mammography greatly improves chances for successful treatment and is crucial for a “cure” since there is currently no known way to prevent or eradicate breast cancer.
Possible signs of breast cancer may include: an immobile lump; tenderness, discomfort or a “pulling sensation”; breast skin is dimpled or puckered; discharge from the nipple; change in the shape or size of the breast or swelling of the skin that covers it; breast tissue may feel thicker, even though there is no lump; pain or redness of the skin; sore or retracted nipple; and sores on the nipples or breast that do not clear up after two weeks of treatment.  It is also important to tell a doctor about scaly skin on the nipple and any change in breast veins. In most cases, the doctor will need to take a sample for microscopic examination (biopsy) to check for cancer.
Breast cancer has a very high cure rate, with 97 percent of women surviving for five years if the cancer is diagnosed early. Indeed, the death rate from breast cancer has been dropping for the past five years for white and Hispanic women - though not for African Americans or Asian/Pacific Islanders.
Although the incidence of breast cancer is about 12 percent lower in black women than in white women; it often strikes at an earlier age in black women, and the mortality rate is higher.
A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of getting a disease. But identifying one or several factors doesn’t mean a person will get the disease. Some women who develop breast cancer had no known risk factors. The only true line of defense is to learn how to give yourself a monthly breast self exam and to get clinical breast exams and mammograms as suggested for your age and risk factors.

Prevention tips
• Do a monthly breast self-exam: If you’re sexually active, on the pill or over 18, you should definitely do monthly exams. Your BSE will take about 15 minutes, can be done right after you get out of the shower and is a great way for you to get to know and get comfortable with your breasts. Schedule yearly appointments for clinical breast exams and mammograms (if over 40).
• Exercise regularly: Get your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes three times a week. It might not only lower your risk for breast cancer, but it’s good for your overall health.
• Don’t smoke and cut back on alcohol intake: Women who drink two to five drinks a day have roughly 1.5 time the risk of women who don’t drink.
• Avoid fatty foods and obesity: This doesn’t mean cut down on all fat — in fact, we need to eat fat, good fats, to maintain a healthy diet. But in this age of over-processed and fast foods, most of us can afford to cut back on the deep-fried, poly-saturated and animal fats.

High-fat diets just aren’t healthy
Obesity — not just a few extra pounds — can also put you at risk. Studies now show weight gained later in life, not in childhood or adolescence, puts us more at risk for breast and other cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. If you feel you are dangerously overweight, talk to your doctor.
How to perform the
breast self exam
Most women examine themselves both standing up (usually in the shower) and lying on their beds (depending on the section of the exam).
Lie down with a pillow under your right shoulder and place your right arm behind your head.
Place the finger pads of your three middle fingers on you left hand on the outer part of your bare right breast. Pressing gently but firmly, circle inwards until you have reached your nipple. You can also move up and down or in straight lines out from the nipple, but do it the same way each time.
Gently squeeze the nipple and look for any discharge.
Lower your right arm and switch, raising your left arm and examining your left breast with your right hand.
Standing up in front of a mirror, check for changes in the way your breasts look. Look for dimpling of the skin, changes in the nipple, or redness or swelling.
For nearly 80 percent of women with breast cancer, the discovery of a mass or lump in the breast is the first sign that something is amiss. Fortunately, 8 out of every 10 lumps discovered and biopsied turn out to be non-cancerous, but if you do find a suspicious lump, it is still best to call your doctor right away.
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