Memorial Regional Health: Early detection essential to breast cancer survival rates — Memorial Regional Health offering discounted mammograms throughout October
While nearly 50,000 women are expected to die from breast cancer this year, the survival rate for women with breast cancer has been steadily increasing since the 1980s.
Early detection is one reason women are surviving breast cancer in greater numbers. When detected early, the five-year survival rate for women with stage 0 or stage I breast cancer is nearly 100 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.
While family history can play a role in a woman’s overall risk for breast cancer, many women with breast cancer had no family history of the disease. Because one of the most significant risk factors for breast cancer is being a woman, following are some of the ways you can stay on top of your health care to ensure you’re lowering your risk and increasing your chance of detecting breast cancer early.
Self exams, warning signs
The American Cancer Society used to recommend all women perform monthly self-exams, but the medical community now focuses on early detection through mammography, which is recommended for all women age 45 and older and earlier for some women based on risk factors.
Breast cancer warning signs vary, but the most common signs are a change in the look or feel of the breast, a change in the look and feel of the nipple, or nipple discharge, according to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
Many healthcare providers still recommend self-exams, because they help women stay more attuned to what’s happening with their bodies, which could increase the chance of early detection. In the shower or while lying down, move your entire breast in circular motion from the outside to the center to check for lumps. Squeeze your nipple and check for discharge. Also check your armpit areas.
Mammograms and regular checkups
Women age 40 to 44 have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms, which are X-rays of the breast, if they wish or if it’s recommended by a health care provider. The American Cancer Society recommends all women age 45 to 54 receive mammograms every year; women age 55 and older should switch to mammograms every two years or can continue annual screening.
A mammogram is uncomfortable for most women, and some find it painful, but its benefits could save your life. While standing in front of a special machine, the technician will place your breast on a clear plastic plate. Another plate firmly presses the breast from above, flattening the breast and holding it still while the X-ray is taken. The process is repeated for a side view of the breast, then again for the other breast.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that mammograms are the best tests doctors have to detect breast cancer early, sometimes up to three years before it can be felt.
Review your risk
One of the best ways to know your risk for breast cancer is by seeing your doctor regularly and discussing your lifestyle, family history, and other factors. While there are no sure ways to prevent breast cancer, the American Cancer Society reports that some risk factors can be changed or lowered. Because a woman’s risk for breast cancer increases with age, two risk factors we can’t control are being female and aging.
One online tool, bcrisktool.cancer.gov, helps assess a woman’s risk of breast cancer during the next five years and up to the age of 90 (lifetime risk). It looks at a woman’s age, age at first period, age at the time of the birth of a first child (or whether a woman has never given birth), family history of breast cancer, number of past breast biopsies, and race/ethnicity.
Women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation are at a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Talk to your doctor about genetic testing if you have a family history of breast, ovarian, fallopian tube or peritoneal cancer.
Healthy lifestyle habits
Making healthy lifestyle choices can reduce a woman’s risk for breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends all women get to and stay at a healthy weight, since increased body weight and weight gain are linked with a higher risk of breast cancer after menopause. Staying at a healthy weight throughout life helps reduce the risk of all kinds of health concerns.
Physical activity is also linked to lower breast cancer risk. Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week, according to the American Cancer Society.
Women should also limit or avoid alcohol, and mothers who breastfeed for at least several months can also reduce their breast cancer risk.