Breast Care

For over twenty years, various organizations have sponsored Breast Cancer Awareness in October including the American Cancer Society, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), and the Center for Disease Control. Additionally, several drug manufacturers and research organizations have also been major sponsors, all with the goal of educating the public about breast cancer and most importantly the benefits of early detection. The advent of mammography over the last few decades has greatly improved the chances of treating and sometimes curing breast cancer for many women. Breast cancer awareness month is a way to remind both men and women about their risk for breast cancer.

In 2012, approximately 230,000 women will be diagnosed with some form of invasive breast cancer and about 2140 men will also be diagnosed. Over 40,000 women and 450 men will die from breast cancer this year. Besides invasive cancers, around 63,300 women will be diagnosed with in situ cancers in the same time period. In other words, 1 in 8 women will be faced with breast cancer. We can all think of a mother, sister, friend, or co-worker who has had breast cancer. Staying informed about breast cancer and its screening and detection methods, as well as assessing your personal risk factors, can give women and men peace of mind that they are doing their utmost to keep themselves healthy.

Breast cancer generally can be described as one or more malignant or cancerous tumors that develop in the breast tissue. There are several types of breast cancer that effect different areas of the breast. The majority of breast cancers appears in the milk ducts of the breast and is called ductal carcinoma. Lobular carcinoma, a less common form of breast cancer, occurs where breast milk is made. Additionally there are several other forms of breast cancer which occur even less frequently such as medullary, mucinous, and inflammatory. Breast cancer is further classified into two types: in situ or invasive. In situ means “in place” and refers to cancers that have not spread outside of the duct or lobule. Invasive, as the name suggests, refers to cancer that has spread to surrounding breast tissue. A third term, metastasis refers to breast cancer that has broken apart from a primary site and spread to other parts of the body through either the bloodstream or the lymph system.

Each type and form of breast cancer has many different options of treatment. Some involve surgery, while others require radiation or chemotherapy. Some women are treated with a combination of several therapies, but experts agree that the earlier breast cancer is detected the better the overall prognosis. That’s why groups like the American Cancer Society and others stress the importance of self breast exams, clinical breast exams, and mammography for women.

Mammography over the past several decades has revolutionized the way breast cancer is screened. Previous generations would have to wait until they or their physicians found a lump or mass in the breast. Now women can be screened with an x-rayed vision of the breast (mammography), and radiologists can analyze tests and observe abnormal changes in the breast tissue. These early detections can lead to treatments for cancer while the tumors are still small and more responsive. ACOG  recommends a yearly mammogram starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health. They also recommend clinical breast exams by a health care provider about every three years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and over. Additionally ACOG advises that women should report any breast change promptly to their providers and indicates that women should begin breast self-exam in their 20s. They further state that women who may be at increased risk should discuss with their providers the benefits and limitations of starting mammography screening earlier. Women are considered at increased risk if they have a family history, a genetic tendency, or past breast cancer history. Their health care provider may also recommend additional tests like breast ultrasound or MRI and a more frequent examination schedule.

Many health insurers cover the cost of mammograms, as does Medicare and Medicaid. There are also low-cost or no-cost mammography services if you qualify. So let October be the month you do your part to help raise breast cancer awareness in your own life. Tell a friend or family member do the same. 

Timothy J. Hardy, M.D.

Dr. Timothy Hardy, M.D. has been practicing medicine in the community for many years. He received his medical degree from Eastern Virginia Medical School and founded his own practice, Atlantic OB-GYN, in 1990, where he has been providing women with exceptional care ever since. Website: www.atlanticobgyn.com
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