Living » Ask the Experts at East Jefferson General Hospital

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

By Keith M. Darcey

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According to the American Cancer Society, more than 200,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year. Also in 2006, it is estimated that more than 40,000 women will die from the disease, making breast cancer the second deadliest form of cancer in women behind only lung cancer.

The best way to combat breast cancer may be to get educated. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an ideal time to learn more about a disease that can affect you, a family member or a friend. It is a disease that can be successfully treated if caught early. Getting a mammogram, knowing risk factors and your family medical history may mean the difference between treatment options and chances of survival.

¨Out of all the ways to protect yourself, the single greatest weapon women have in the prevention of breast cancer is still mammography,¨ says Dr. Scott Sonnier, an oncologist at East Jefferson General Hospital. ¨Some put off getting their mammogram fearing what they may find. The reality is, however, with early detection and today´s treatment options, less invasive treatments may be employed, and more importantly, fewer lives will be lost from this deadly disease.¨

There are common risk factors that may indicate women will have a higher probability of developing breast cancer at some point in their lives. Physicians like to monitor certain controllable factors such as excessive weight, cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity and the age at which you become pregnant. Studies show that women who have had no children or have had a child after age 30 have slightly higher chances of developing cancer. Monitoring your overall health helps prevent breast cancer as well as many other diseases and chronic conditions.

Other risk factors are not controllable such as age, genetic makeup and family history. As women age, the chances of developing breast cancer increases significantly. In women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, approximately 78 percent are older than 50, compared to 17 percent of women who were diagnosed in their 40s.

A family history of breast cancer — especially if it is a mother, grandmother or sibling — should be discussed with your physician. If two or more relatives have been diagnosed or if a family member has been diagnosed before age 50, your physician may want to monitor you more closely.

¨Most women should start receiving annual breast exams and mammograms at the age of 40,¨ says Sonnier. ¨For those who do have a significant family history of breast cancer or for those who are known to carry known genetic markers for breast cancer, annual testing may need to begin at an earlier age.¨

Early detection is key. For women who follow the testing recommended by their physician, breast cancer is usually discovered in its early stages, which leads to a better chance of survival. In addition, treatment options may be less invasive with fewer side effects and less stress on the body.

¨Since 1990, the national mortality rate from breast cancer has remarkably been reduced,¨ says Sonnier. ¨In essence, when mammography is performed as recommended by American Cancer Society guidelines, a woman is 25 percent less likely to die from this disease than in the past.¨

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