Awareness and take-charge attitude defend against breast cancer


For the Mirror

October is an important month for everyone who has lost friends and loved ones to breast cancer. It is a time for remembrance and for hope.

With this being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we place a special emphasis on helping women across the nation better understand the steps they can take to protect themselves against this killer.

Breast cancer is the leading cause of death for women between the ages of 40 and 55 in the United States. This year alone, more than 211,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and of those, 43,300 will die, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

A woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every two minutes. Seventy-five percent of all diagnosed cases of breast cancer are among women who are 50 and older, the American Cancer Society reports.

These numbers are startling and unacceptable, given all that is known medically about breast care and treatment.

By consulting with their physicians, being proactive and finding suspicious lumps earlier, women themselves are breast cancer’s fiercest foe.

Every woman should follow a regimen for detecting breast cancer in its earliest stages. The earlier cancer is discovered, the greater the opportunity it can be successfully treated.

The National Breast Cancer Foundation recommends:

•Clinical breast examinations every three years from ages 20 to 39, then every year thereafter.

• Monthly breast self-examinations beginning at age 20. Look for any changes in your breasts. Seventy percent of all breast cancers are found through self-exams.

• Baseline mammogram by the age of 40.

• A mammogram every one to two years for women 40 to 49, depending on previous findings.

• A mammogram every year for women 50 and older.

• A personal calendar to record your self-exams, mammograms and doctor appointments.

• A low-fat diet and regular exercise.

• No smoking or alcohol.

The mammograms performed at the Women’s Health and Breast Center at St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way are evaluated by radiologists who use computer-aided detection technology that helps them find potential problem areas.

Although breast cancer primarily affects women, men are not immune. This year, as many as 1,600 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and several hundred will die from it, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

This is the 21st year of the national initiative we call Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Because of the enlightening campaign, the use of mammograms has increased, research into better treatments has progressed and lives have been saved.

But the fight against breast cancer is not over. Talk with your doctor about scheduling a mammogram. Take charge of your health.

Barbara Levy, MD, is medical director of the Women’s Health and Breast Center at St. Francis Hospital. The center can be reached at 944-4025 for information about mammograms and other services.

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