Breast cancer survival rates are climbing, thanks in part to greater awareness, more early detection and advances in treatment. For roughly 200,000 Americans who are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful.
"More women are getting mammograms to detect breast cancer in its earliest stages," advised General Surgeon Amanda Baright, D.O. "These women have a nine in ten chance of a successful recovery."
Next to skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer diagnosed in American women.
Yet, while mammography screening is one of the best available methods to detect breast cancer in its early stages, there are still many eligible women who do not get screening mammograms or clinical breast exams at regular intervals.
According to the American Cancer Society, women age 40 and older should have a screening mammogram every year and should continue to do so for as long as they are in good health.
Regular screening mammograms are covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurers.
In addition, women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam (CBE) as part of a regular health exam by a health professional, which should occur at least every 3 years.
After age 40, women should have a breast exam by a health professional every year. Those with a family history of breast cancer or who have other risk factors should discuss additional screening guidelines with their physician.
"One of the earliest signs of breast cancer can be an abnormality that shows up on a mammogram before it can be felt," Dr. Baright continued.
"The most common signs of breast cancer are a lump in the breast, abnormal thickening of the breast, or a change in the shape or color of the breast. Finding a lump or change in your breast; however, does not necessarily mean you have breast cancer."
Changes to be discussed with a health care provider include:
- A painless lump in the breast
- Changes in breast size or shape
- Swelling in the armpit
- Nipple changes or discharge
When is it Cancer?
"Cancer is a disease that occurs when cells become abnormal and divide without control or order," Dr. Baright said. "These extra cells form into extra tissue, called a tumor, which can be benign or malignant.
"Eighty percent of all breast tumors are benign, which means they are not cancerous. They can usually be removed, and, in most cases, they don't come back. It is important to note that the cells in benign tumors do not invade other tissues and do not spread to other parts of the body.
"Malignant tumors are cancerous. These cancer cells grow and divide out of control, invading and damaging nearby tissues and organs. Cancer cells can also break away from the original tumor and enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system. This is how breast cancer spreads and forms secondary tumors in other parts of the body. This spread of cancer is called metastasis.
"The basic treatment choices for breast cancer are surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and hormonal therapy. Breast surgery and radiation therapy are considered to be local treatments because they focus on the breast itself, with the goal of removing or destroying the cancer cells confined to the breast. Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment that aims to destroy the cancer cells that may have spread throughout the body."
"There is no sure way to prevent breast cancer," Dr. Baright stated. "However, a woman may reduce her risk by making changes in her lifestyle choices."
1. Maintain healthy body weight (BMI less than 25). If you've gained more than 20 pounds since your 18th birthday, your risk of developing breast cancer is 40 percent higher compared to those who stay within 5 pounds of their teenage weight, research from the American Cancer Society (ACS) shows.
"Weight gain in midlife has also been shown to significantly increase a woman's breast cancer risk," explained Dr. Baright. "When a woman is obese, she has higher insulin levels, which promotes cancerous cell growth."
2. Maintain healthy eating habits. Findings suggest that following a low-fat diet and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables can help in preventing this disease.
A study by the National Institutes of Health found that postmenopausal women who consumed 40 percent of their calories from fat were 11percent more likely to get breast cancer than women who got 20 percent percent of their calories from fat.
"We know that a high-fat diet boosts hormones that promote cancer cell growth," Dr. Baright advised. "Women with a high-fat diet tend to start their periods earlier and reach menopause later so they are exposed to high levels of estrogen for longer periods of time. This increases their risk of breast cancer."
3. Minimize or avoid alcohol. Alcohol use is a well-known risk factor for breast cancer. The Harvard Nurses' Health study, along with several others, found that consuming more than one alcoholic beverage a day can increase breast cancer risk by as much as 20-25 percent.
4. Exercise regularly the rest of your life. "Many studies have shown that regular exercise provides powerful protection against breast cancer," Dr. Baright stated. "Aim for 30 minutes or more of moderate aerobic activity five or more days a week."
5. Don't smoke. Although smoking doesn't cause breast cancer, it can increase the chance of blood clots, heart disease, and other cancers that may spread to the breast.
Amanda Baright, D.O., is a general surgeon affiliated with Salem Community Hospital's active medical staff. Her office is located at the Salem Medical Center, 2094 East State Street, Suite A in Salem, 330-337-2868. Her areas of special interest include breast surgery and colo-rectal surgery, as well as laparoscopic procedures.