Lifestyle

Fighting against breast cancer

By Donna Banks

For The Courier-Herald

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month – the time of year when pink ribbons come out. But monitoring your breast health should be a year-round activity. Breast cancer is the fifth leading cause of death for women. Each year about 40,000 women will die from breast cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Knowing your risk factors for breast cancer can be helpful.

Age: The chance of getting breast cancer increases as you get older. Most women with breast cancer are post-menopausal. About 94 percent of new cases of breast cancer occur in women over the age of 40.

Family history: The risk of breast cancer increases if a woman has close relatives with either breast or ovarian cancer. But many women who develop breast cancer have no family history.

Race: Breast cancer is more common in some racial and ethnic groups. It occurs more often in white women than Hispanic, African-American, Asian or Native American women. African-American women are more likely to die of breast cancer than women of other racial or ethnic groups.

Childbearing history: Not having children or having your first child later in life, in your 30s and 40s, increases your risk.

Certain medications: Using hormone replacement therapy for several years may increase your risk.

Health and prevention

Medical experts still are researching how to prevent cancer. In the meantime, here are some ways to protect your overall health and try to reduce your risk for certain cancers

• Eat five servings or more of fruits and vegetables each day

• Get regular physical activity

• Maintain a healthy weight

• Limit alcohol intake to no more than one drink a day

• Don’t smoke

Breast exams

Many women perform monthly breast self-exams. Finding a lump or other change can be alarming. It’s definitely a reason to see your health care provider but most lumps – about 80 percent – are benign.

Mammograms

Regular mammograms are the best tool doctors have to find breast cancer early. A mammogram can show early signs of cancer long before you or your doctor can feel or see changes. If the disease is found and treated early, women can go on to live a long and healthy life.

Treatment

There are many different treatments for breast cancer.

Surgery: An operation to remove some of or the entire breast. This is the most common treatment.

Radiation therapy: Radiation targeted at the cancer to kill the cancer cells.

Chemotherapy: Drugs that kill or stop the growth of cancer cells.

Hormone therapy: Removing or blocking hormones to stop cancer cells from growing.

Breast cancer is treatable. Most tumors can be treated successfully before cancer spreads. And in about 90 percent of cases, the women will live at least another five years.

Donna Banks, RN, is a breast health coordinator for MultiCare Health System.

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