BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH Get checked; you’ve got this
It is difficult to find someone who hasn’t been affected by breast cancer - either having experienced it personally or knowing someone who has been diagnosed with this disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate each year in the United States, about 264,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women and about 2,400 in men.
Breast cancer has touched my family personally and our Lehigh Valley Press family.
In my family, a sharp radiologist at St. Luke’s Hospital’s breast imagining center found an eraser size Lobular carcinoma in situ in one breast during a routine mammogram. This was caught early and she is under the continued and careful care of Dr. Lee Riley, network chairman of oncology and the director of surgical research - Bethlehem Campus for the St. Luke’s University Health.
In our Lehigh Valley Press family, our co-worker also had routine mammograms in February of each year.
In April 2013, she found a lump in her breast and called her OB-GYN who sent her to the hospital for additional testing.
Additional testing included X-rays and a biopsy.
Under the care of Heiwon Chung Whang M.D., chief, sectional of surgical oncology at Lehigh Valley Health Network and Eliot Friedman, M.D., hematology. medical oncology at LVHN, the co-worker had a mastectomy in June of that year and four rounds of chemotherapy which ended that October. Breast reconstruction was completed in January 2014.
She is nine years cancer free and we are grateful.
The chemotherapy caused our co-worker to lose her hair, a side effect which can be very traumatic.
“The nurses in the infusion center were wonderful as were my neighbors,” the co-worker said. “My doctor said I needed to have a good attitude even though it would be hard.”
According to cancer.org, “Breast cancer mainly occurs in middle-aged and older women. The median age at the time of breast cancer diagnosis is 62.
“This means half of the women who developed breast cancer are 62 years of age or younger when they are diagnosed. A very small number of women diagnosed with breast cancer are younger than 45.”
Fortunately, breast cancer can be caught early by patients noticing symptoms, mammographic screenings and regular checkups by an OB-GYN.
The CDC says different people have different symptoms of breast cancer and many do not have any signs or symptoms at all.
They say some warning signs of breast cancer include: a new lump in the breast or underarm (armpit), thickening or swelling of part of the breast, irritation or dimpling of breast skin, redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast, pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area, nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood, any change in the size or the shape of the breast and pain in any area of the breast.
The CDC says these symptoms can happen with other conditions that are not cancer.
Risk factors you cannot change include:
•Getting older. The risk for breast cancer increases with age. Most breast cancers are diagnosed after age 50.
•Genetic mutations. Women who have inherited changes (mutations) to certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, are at higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
•Reproductive history. Starting menstrual periods before age 12 and starting menopause after age 55 expose women to hormones longer, raising their risk of getting breast cancer.
•Having dense breasts. Dense breasts have more connective tissue than fatty tissue, which can sometimes make it hard to see tumors on a mammogram. Women with dense breasts are more likely to get breast cancer.
•Personal history of breast cancer or certain noncancerous breast diseases. Women who have had breast cancer are more likely to get breast cancer a second time. Some noncancerous breast diseases such as atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ are associated with a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
•Family history of breast or ovarian cancer. A woman’s risk for breast cancer is higher if she has a mother, sister or daughter (first-degree relative) or multiple family members on either her mother’s or father’s side of the family who have had breast or ovarian cancer. Having a first-degree male relative with breast cancer also raises a woman’s risk.
•Previous treatment using radiation therapy. Women who had radiation therapy to the chest or breasts (for instance, treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma) before age 30 have a higher risk of getting breast cancer later in life.
•Exposure to the drug diethylstilbestrol. DES was given to some pregnant women in the United States between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage. Women who took DES, or whose mothers took DES while pregnant with them, have a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
Risk factors you can change include:
•Being physically active can help lower your risk of getting breast cancer.
•Not being physically active. Women who are not physically active have a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
•Being overweight or having obesity after menopause. Older women who are overweight or have obesity have a higher risk of getting breast cancer than those at a healthy weight.
•Taking hormones. Some forms of hormone replacement therapy (those that include both estrogen and progesterone) taken during menopause can raise risk for breast cancer when taken for more than five years. Certain oral contraceptives (birth control pills) also have been found to raise breast cancer risk.
•Reproductive history. Having the first pregnancy after age 30, not breast-feeding and never having a full-term pregnancy can raise breast cancer risk.
•Drinking alcohol. Studies show that a woman’s risk for breast cancer increases with the more alcohol she drinks.
Research suggests other factors such as smoking, being exposed to chemicals that can cause cancer and changes in other hormones due to night shift working also may increase breast cancer risk.
According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year relative survival rate for localized breast cancer, cancer that has not spread outside the breast, is 99 percent.
I like that percentage a lot.
If you have any signs or symptoms that worry you, be sure to see your doctor right away. The earlier breast cancer is caught, the better chance you have of living your life to the fullest.
It can be daunting to find something unusual in your breast or receive a breast cancer diagnosis.
A series of emotions, including shock, follow and, our co-worker strongly suggests taking an advocate with you to the series of tests and doctor appointments so an appropriate course of action can be developed.
What you need to know is there is an entire network of medical professionals and breast cancer survivors ready to support you on this journey and welcome into the survivor’s club.
Check checked. You’ve got this.
East Penn Press