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Published on October 08, 2012

Breast Cancer Awareness Month – What You Need To Know

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and you’ll see pink ribbons everywhere you look. The social movement aspect that is breast cancer awareness is impossible to miss. But what you really need to know about breast cancer and your own health isn’t quite as ubiquitous.

So, consider this your cheat sheet for everything you need to know about detection, prevention and treatment first steps:

Detection

The National Cancer Institute places the five-year survival rate at 100 percent if breast cancer is caught in stage 1. So, yeah, early detection matters. Some experts have advised against breast self exams because there can be confusion on what constitutes a lump and what doesn’t, but as long as you’re comfortable examining your own breasts, you should do it. The key is to know how your breasts generally look and feel, and to go to your doctor if something seems different.

Mammograms have also become somewhat controversial, with some studies questioning their effectiveness. But the fact remains that they increase odds of early detection and survival. Crozer-Keystone docs recommend that all women get yearly mammograms when they turn 50-years-old.

For women with dense breasts or at high risk, sonograms or MRIs might be advisable. If you’re not sure, talk to your doctor.

Prevention – Reducing You Risk

Ultimately, you can’t control whether you get cancer, but simple lifestyle rules like eating healthy and getting exercise have been proven to reduce your risk of cancer. Some tips:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Obese post-menopausal women 1.5 times more likely to develop breast cancer compared to women of “normal weight” The reason is that fat tissue can produce estrogen; too much estrogen increases your cancer risk.
  • Exercise. The National Cancer Institute reports that exercising four or more hours a week can decrease estrogen levels and therefore help to lower your risk of breast cancer risk.
  • Eat right. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains has been shown to reduce the incidence of breast cancer.
  • Don’t drink too much. There is a well-established link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer. Don’t have more than one drink a day.
  • Understand your family history. If your mother, grandmother or a maternal aunt developed breast cancer before the age of 50, you’re a significantly increased risk of breast cancer. Know this, and talk to your doctor about it.

Treatment – First Steps

“There are extremes in the reactions to finding a lump, [from] panic to no reaction at all,” said Thomas Matulewski, M.D., director of the Center for Breast Health at Delaware County Memorial Hospital.

If you find a lump in your breast, don’t panic. That’s admittedly much easier said than done, but all of the statistics portray a positive scenario, so don’t fear the worst. But do take action. That’s incredibly important, so let’s say it again – take action. Contact your doctor.  

“Too often symptoms are ignored for too long,” Matulewski says.

Your doctor will likely recommend a mammogram. If a lump is found, the next step is typically a needle biopsy to take a sample of cells to figure out the cause of the lump. About 80 percent of the time, the biopsy shows that the lump is benign.

So don’t give in to fear. Remember – knowledge is power, and it could save your life.

To learn more about Crozer-Keystone Cancer Services, visit http://ckcancer.crozerkeystone.org. or call 1-866-695-HOPE (1-866-659-4673).

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