Breast Health

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We all know at least one woman who has endured breast cancer. In the United States, breast cancer is the second-most common cancer in women after skin cancer. In the U.S. this year, an estimated 330,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in women. Let’s make the math easy – that’s about 1 in 8 women who will develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetime. 1 in 8! It may surprise you to hear that about 2,670 new cases of breast cancer are expected in men this year. Yes, men can get breast cancer, too. A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 880.

The figure for men is much lower than for women, but typically men are diagnosed at a later stage, simply because they think breast cancer only affects women. Men can develop breast cancer because they also have breast tissue. Notice the odds, though: women – 1 in 8; men – 1 in 880.

The reason men are less affected is because their breast duct cells are obviously less developed, so there are fewer cells to “go rogue.” Researchers primarily believe lifelong exposure to female hormones seems to be a key factor. Girls who begin menstruating at an early age, or women who enter menopause later in life, have a higher risk. Women who don't become pregnant, or do so later in life, are also at higher risk. Women who don't breastfeed also have slightly more risk. This points to hormonal exposure correlating with breast cancer.

 Although there isn't a lot you can or should do to alter the hormonal changes your body naturally experiences monthly and as you age, other environmental factors, such as obesity, alcohol intake, diet, exercise level and the use of hormone replacement therapy are also likely related to higher incidences of breast cancer. With all those possible risk factors, staying active, eating right, controlling stress, reducing your alcohol intake and generally leading a healthy lifestyle can all reduce your chances of developing breast cancer. And, you should pay attention to your body and notice any changes in your breasts.

 What’s normal and when should you be concerned? Simply stated, no two sets of breasts are alike. The best advice is to know your body and what's normal for you. After a woman goes through puberty, she should become familiar with how her breasts look and any changes that occur. If a woman normally has an inverted nipple, for example, and it begins protruding or one breast begins to change in size, these changes should be considered suspicious. It's less important to know what's 'normal' in all women than to know what’s normal for you, and noticing any changes.

 In addition to knowing her own body and recognizing changes, mammography is a very important tool in detecting potential breast disease early. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast used to detect breast disease, whether there are troublesome signs or not. A mammogram will not prove that an abnormal area is cancer, but when the suspicious area is found it can then be examined and proper treatment can be started early.

 Who should get a mammogram? First, women should definitely be seen by a physician who will probably order a diagnostic mammography if there are symptoms such as a palpable lump, breast skin thickening or indentation, nipple discharge or retraction, sores of the nipple, or breast pain.

 If you have a first-degree female relative (mother, daughter, sister) who was diagnosed at an early age, the recommendation is to start getting mammograms 10 years before the age when it first appeared in your relative. According to this guideline, if your mother was diagnosed at age 45, you would begin annual mammograms at age 35.

 For those with no symptoms and no family history of breast cancer, not all health organizations identify age 40 as a hard and fast rule for the first mammogram, but many do. All these organizations recognize the fact that beginning at age 40 saves the most lives. When it comes to increasing your chance of survival with breast cancer, the earlier you screen for it, the better. If you are at least 40 and you are trying to decide when to have your NEXT mammogram, consult your health care provider regarding the screening guidelines that are appropriate for you. But if you are at least 40 and are trying to decide when to have your FIRST screening mammogram – it’s today.

 For questions, or to schedule your mammogram in the Ashland County area call UH Samaritan Women’s Health Services at 419-207-9272
Anywhere in northeastern Ohio go to uhhospitals.org

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