Breast Health & Cancer Prevention
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Long Branch, NJ --- The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that about one in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer during her lifetime. The ACS estimates that in 2011 alone, nearly 300,000 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and almost 40,000 women will die. It’s the leading cause of new cancer diagnosis after skin cancer, and the second only to lung cancer in the number of lives it claims each year.
“The majority of women who develop breast cancer have no known family history of the disease,” explains Debra Camal, MD, Medical Director of the Jacqueline M. Wilentz Comprehensive Breast Center at Monmouth Medical Center. “Being a female puts you at risk for this disease, and that risk increases as you age,” she adds.
According to Dr. Camal, in addition to gender and age, several other factors increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer. These factors include genetics as well as your family and personal history. “If you have a mother, sister, daughter or two or more other close relatives, such as cousins, diagnosed with breast cancer, particularly at an early age, you have an increased risk for the disease,” she explains. “In addition, other risk factors include the early onset of puberty and the late onset of menopause, both of which are related to a woman’s lifetime exposure to estrogen and possibly progesterone, another hormone produced in the ovaries.
“Women who never had children or delayed pregnancy until later in life also have an increased risk of breast cancer again because of hormonal exposures,” she adds. Other risk factors include previous benign breast conditions, as well as obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption.
While there is no sure way to prevent breast cancer, women can reduce their risks by making healthy lifestyle changes, according to Dr. Camal. These include reducing alcohol consumption, quitting cigarettes, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy body weight at every age. In addition, making prevention an important part of your health regime can improve your chances for early detection of breast cancer – when treatment is most successful.
“Women who perform monthly breast self-exams, are diligent about having mammograms at recommended intervals and see their doctor for clinical breast exams on a regular basis are doing everything they can to improve the chances of detecting breast cancer early,” says Dr. Camal.
“The earlier breast cancer is detected, the more treatment options are available and the better the chances that treatment will be successful,” she adds.
Mammography, currently the gold standard in breast cancer screening, is a low-dose x-ray procedure that allows visualization of the internal structure of the breast. Current ACS guidelines call for a baseline mammography at age 40, followed by mammograms every one to two years for women ages 40 to 49, depending on previous findings, and then mammograms annually for women over 50.
Dr. Camal believes that screening women for breast cancer at an earlier age might improve early detection efforts. “I would recommend a baseline mammography between the ages 35 and 39 and then yearly from 40 onwards,” she notes. “We are seeing quite a few patients in the 30 to 49 age range with breast cancer,” she notes.
According to Dr. Camal, while mammography is highly accurate, it is not perfect. The reliability of mammography to detect cancer can depend on a variety of factors. On average, mammography detects 80 to 90 percent of breast cancers in women with no symptoms.
“Women with dense breasts, scar tissue from previous breast surgery, or those with breast implants often have difficulty with the reliability of screening with mammography alone,” she explains. For these women, additional diagnostic tests such as whole breast ultrasound, breast specific gamma imaging (BSGI) or Breast MRI are sometimes recommended.
Dr. Camal stresses that any change in the breasts – a lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area; a change in the size or shape of the breast; nipple discharge or tenderness; inverted nipples; ridges or pitting of the breast (skin looks similar to an orange peel); and the way the skin of the breast, areola (area surrounding the nipple) or nipple looks or feels (red, scaly, warm or swollen), should be evaluated by your doctor. “He or she may recommend further diagnostic testing or refer you to a breast surgeon for a biopsy to rule out cancer,” she adds.
According to Dr. Camal, it’s important for women to understand that nearly 80 percent of breast abnormalities are benign. While great strides have been made in the treatment of breast cancer, Dr. Camal stresses that for the remaining 20 percent or so – early detection is key.
“Taking charge of your breast health by avoiding or eliminating known risk factors, and making sure you follow recommended guidelines for early detection is critical for every woman,” says Dr. Camal. “While the prospect of finding out whether or not you have breast cancer can be frightening – not doing so can be deadly.”
During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, make sure the women in your life make breast health a priority. If you, or a loved one, haven’t had a mammogram within the recommended guidelines, call your doctor and schedule an appointment today.
To schedule an appointment at the Jacqueline M. Wilentz Comprehensive Breast Center in Long Branch, or at one of the new satellite breast centers in either Howell or Colts Neck, please call 732.923.7700. For more information, visit www.monmouthwilentzbreastcenter.com.
CONTACT: Carrie Cristello
Director, Public Relations
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