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To Your Health: Breast cancer and you: risk factors, safety precautions

Dr. JuliHarris

Dr. Julia Harris

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Updated: October 26, 2013 6:15AM



Today’s woman is more knowledgeable and conscientious than ever about the risks of breast cancer. This is especially true for women over 40 years of age, who have crossed the threshold of increased risk of breast cancer.

Simply being a woman is the main risk factor for developing breast cancer. All women, regardless of age or race, need to acknowledge the risk of developing breast cancer. Nearly 1 woman out of 11 will experience breast cancer. That’s a sobering statistic by anybody’s standards.

A woman’s risk of developing breast cancer increases as she gets older. About 1 out of 8 invasive breast cancers are found in women younger than 45, while about 2 of 3 invasive breast cancers are found in women 55 or older.

A family history of breast cancer can increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. However, more than 85 percent of women who get breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease.

According to the American Cancer Society, there will be more than 232,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed in women this year.

Even with the increased awareness programs, early detection through annual mammography screening and instruction for self-examination, breast cancer remains a leading cause of cancer death for women. Almost 40,000 women will die from breast cancer this year.

Breast cancer, like other forms of cancer, is a disease of the cells. In all, there are about 15 different types of breast cancer. Some are more serious than others, but the one common factor each shares is that neither the cause nor the cure has been found.

Early detection of breast cancer remains a woman’s best chance of survival, and women of all ages should take advantage of all of the resources available.

Every woman should ...

Strive to become more educated about the risk factors associated with breast cancer.

Become knowledgeable about the types, stages and symptoms of breast cancer.

Learn the correct procedure for self-examination tests and perform them routinely.

Long-term use of oral contraceptives, early menstruation, late first full-term pregnancy, exposure to high doses of radiation, puberty through childbearing years and inherited genetic mutation all can increase a woman’s risk of acquiring breast cancer.

Women 40 years of age and older should also ...

Have an annual mammography screening.

Strive to be better informed about increased age-related risks associated with breast cancer.

Recent studies confirm that risk of breast cancer in midlife increases with regular consumption of alcohol, hormone replacement therapy, weight and body mass distribution.

During self-examination, look for a lump or thickening in the breast, a discharge from the nipple, scaliness on the skin or around the nipple, a change in shape, color or texture and dimpling or puckering.

If you detect a lump, don’t panic. About 85 percent of all lumps turn out to be nonmalignant. Make an appointment with your doctor for a more comprehensive examination and tests.

Treatment for breast cancer today is much more advanced than in years past, and a woman’s chances for survival are much better when the tumor is discovered early.

Dr. Julia Harris is a Franciscan Physician Network family medicine physician who chooses to practice at Franciscan St. James Health. Franciscan St. James is a member of the Southland Health Alliance.



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