Breast Cancer Awareness Month: NRMC offers prevention tips

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer among women in the United States. Each year, more than 192,000 women in our country are diagnosed with the disease -- as are approximately 2,000 men.

"Unfortunately, there is no way of guaranteeing that a person won't develop breast cancer, but there are steps that can be taken to reduce risk," says Cory Vokoun, Chief Nursing Officer at Nevada Regional Medical Center "As with many health issues, education can be key. If you learn to spot the symptoms of breast cancer and take steps to lower your risk, you're off to a strong start."

Symptoms of breast cancer

In its early stages, breast cancer often has no symptoms. However, as a tumor develops, the following symptoms may be present: A lump in the breast or underarm that persists after your menstrual cycle, swelling in the armpit, a marble-like area under the skin, persistent pain or tenderness in the breast, a noticeable flattening or indentation on the breast, which may indicate a tumor that cannot be seen or felt; any change in the size, contour, texture or temperature of the breast; a change in the nipple, such as an indrawn or dimpled look, itching or burning sensation, or ulceration; unusual discharge from the nipple; or an area that is distinctly different from any other area on either breast.

It is important that any new mass, lump or breast change be checked by a healthcare professional with experience in diagnosing breast diseases. Please talk to your doctor if you see or feel anything out of the ordinary.

Who is at risk?

* Women with a history of breast cancer have a three- to four-fold increased risk of developing a new breast cancer, unrelated to the first one, in the other breast or in another part of the same breast.

* Women with a family history of breast cancer. Having a mother, sister or daughter who has (or has had) breast cancer increases your risk for developing the disease. The risk is even greater if a relative developed breast cancer before menopause and had cancer in both breasts.

* Women older than age 50. About 77 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer each year are over age 50, and almost half are age 65 and older.

* Carriers of alterations in either of two familial breast cancer genes called BRCA1 or BRCA2.

* Women with an inherited alteration in either of these genes have up to an 80 percent chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime.

* Women with a previous breast biopsy result of atypical hyperplasia, or those with a previous abnormal breast biopsy indicating fibroadenomas with complex features, hyperplasia without atypia, sclerosing adenosis and solitary papilloma.

* Caucasian women are at a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer than are African-American, Asian, Hispanic and Native American women.

* Women who have their first child after age 35 or never have children.

* Women who started menstruating before age 12.

* Women who begin menopause after age 55.

* Overweight women, with excess caloric and fat intake (especially post-menopause).

* Women who have two to five alcoholic beverages a day are 1.5 times more likely to develop breast cancer than women who drink no alcohol.

* Those exposed to excessive amounts of radiation, especially before age 30.

* Women who use Hormone Replacement Therapy for an extended period of time. (Risk seems to return to that of the general population after discontinuing use for five years or more.)

* Those with other cancer in the family. A family history of cancer of the ovaries, cervix, uterus or colon increases your risk of developing breast cancer.

It is important to understand that having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that a woman will get the disease. Most women who have one or more breast cancer risk factors never develop the disease, while many women with breast cancer have no apparent risk factors (other than being a woman and growing older). Even when a woman with risk factors develops breast cancer, it is hard to know just how much these factors may have contributed to her cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

Preventing breast cancer

"While you can't control certain breast cancer risk factors, such as age and genetic makeup, a healthy lifestyle -- i.e. doing more of what's good for your body and less of what's bad -- can prove powerful in preventing breast cancer," said Dr. Patricia Cooper, RN, of Quorum Health Resources.

"It's important to eat right, maintain a healthy weight, stay physically active and limit alcohol consumption," she said. "And be vigilant about early detection of breast cancer. Do a monthly breast self-exam and if you notice any breast changes, make an appointment to see your doctor for evaluation. Making sure you get your annual mammogram, as appropriate, is critical, too."

Information from Nevada Reginal Medical Center and Quorum Health Resources.

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