October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Since the program began in 1985, mammography rates have more than doubled for women age 50 and older. According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, outside of skin cancers. About 1 in 8 (12%) women in the US will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime.
"The majority of breast cancers in the United States are diagnosed as a result of an abnormal screening study," said Krista Clark, D.O., a physician at Hedrick Medical Center. "Therefore, it is important to discuss your risk factors with your doctor to encourage shared-decision making to determine the appropriate age to start screening and the frequency of screening tests, such as 3-D mammography, self breast exams, and clinical breast exams."
The American Cancer Society's estimates for breast cancer in the United States for 2016 are:
- About 246,660 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.
- About 61,000 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be diagnosed (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer).
- About 40,450 women will die from breast cancer.
“The good news is, death rates from breast cancer continue to drop,” said Clark. “Advances in technology, such as 3-D mammography, have certainly aided in earlier diagnosis of the disease, and treatment options have improved in recent years as well. However, awareness is at an all-time high in this country, and that has a tremendous impact on saving lives as well.”
Knowing personal risk factors can help a woman and her doctor plan a course of action that may reduce her chances of developing the disease or detect it in its earliest, most treatable stages.
The most common risk factors:
- Sex. The highest risk factor for breast cancer is being female; the disease is about 100 times more common among women.
- Age. The risk of breast cancer increases as a woman grows older. The risk is especially high for women age 60 and older. Breast cancer is uncommon in women younger than age 35, although it does occur. There is some evidence to suggest young African-American women are at greater risk for breast cancer than young Caucasian women.
- Personal History. Women who have had breast cancer and women with a history of breast disease (not cancer, but a condition that may predispose them to cancer) may develop it again.
- Family History. The risk of developing breast cancer increases for a woman whose mother, sister, daughter, or two or more close relatives have had the disease. It is important to know how old they were at the time they were diagnosed.
- The Breast Cancer Genes. Some individuals, both women and men, may be born with an “alteration” (or change) in one of two genes that are important for regulating breast cell growth. Individuals who inherit an alteration in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene are at an “inherited” higher risk for breast cancer. They also may pass this alteration on to their children. It is very rare. Scientists estimate that only about 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancers are due to genetic changes. One out of two women with these changes is likely to develop breast cancer. Women with a family history of breast cancer are encouraged to speak to a genetics counselor to determine the pros and cons of genetic testing.
When individuals are diagnosed with breast cancer, Hedrick Medical Center now provides an Oncology Nurse Navigator, free of charge, to help navigate the process.
“We are very lucky at Hedrick to have a nurse navigator who can help coordinate patient care,” said Clark. “She can help schedule testing and genetic counseling, offers free classes that help cancer patients with nutrition and beauty tips, yoga classes, and many other services that make a cancer diagnosis more manageable.”
For more information about the nurse navigator program, to schedule an annual screening, or to schedule an appointment with a primary care provider, Hedrick Medical Center at 660-646-1480.