Breast Cancer Isn’t Just An October Disease

  • Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dr. Rica Santiago TRIDENT

With more than 230,000 cases of invasive breast cancer expected to be diagnosed in 2011, it’s important for women to stay informed and take steps to detect the disease early.  First, consider your risk factors, says Trident Health System internist Rica Santiago, MD, with LowCountry Internal Medicine in North Charleston. In general, a woman whose mother or sister has had breast cancer at an early age, has a slightly higher risk of having it too.

Meanwhile, smoking, consuming a high-fat diet, frequently eating red meat and leading a sedentary lifestyle all may increase your chances for breast cancer, among other factors.  Age plays an important role as well. The odds of a woman of being diagnosed with breast cancer between the ages of 40-49 are 1 in 69, according to the American Cancer Society. Those odds increase to 1 in 42 for a woman between the ages of 50-59 and to 1 in 29 for ages 60-69.

As a result, Dr. Santiago and many others recommend yearly breast exams by a physician as well as an annual mammogram starting at age 40 or perhaps earlier for women who are at high risk.

“Be vigilant about going to screenings and communicating with your doctor about anything you find that’s abnormal,” Dr. Santiago says.

Even though a woman’s risk goes up as she heads to middle age, making the right lifestyle choices for good breast health should start early. There is some disagreement on the benefits of self exams, but some say that by age 20, a woman should start checking her breasts each month – preferably one week after her menstrual period ends, when the tissue is less swollen or tender.  In any case, it’s important for all women to be familiar with their breasts so they notice changes and have some reference for comparison.

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization recommends that the following changes be checked out by a primary care provider:

•    lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
•    swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
•    change in the size or shape of the breast
•    dimpling or puckering of the skin
•    itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
•    pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
•    nipple discharge that starts suddenly
•    new pain in one spot that doesn’t go away.

These changes don’t necessarily mean cancer, but they could be warning signs and should be investigated as soon as possible.  For those who have developed the disease, catching it and dealing with it quickly can make an important difference. “The earlier breast cancer is diagnosed the better your chances are for beating it,” says Dr. Santiago.  For a free physician referral, please contact Consult-A-Nurse at 843-797-3463.

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