It seems breast cancer is on the rise. However, the means of treating it are also increasing and over 95% of women diagnosed with early breast cancer will survive. The risk for breast cancer increases with age so that at age 50 the chance of developing the disease is 1 in 50, but at age 60 the chances increase to 1 in 24.
Although there are a variety of factors believed to increase the risk of breast cancer, the three that are generally accepted as the most important are: 1.) AGE: being 50 or older. 2.) Being born in North America or northern Europe. 3.) Having a mother and sister who have had breast cancer.
Since the sharp images on today’s mammography machines are greatly improved over older machines, it is easier to detect early small cancers. So, for women who are at higher risk because of family history of breast cancer many doctors will recommend mammograms begin and continue starting after age 40. Many doctors will recommend an annual physical examination of the breast starting at age 40. Since most lumps are discovered by women themselves, doctors also encourage monthly self-exams which are not difficult and only take a few minutes. Mammograms can detect these lumps up to 2 years sooner than they can be felt by hand. A lump does not automatically mean cancer. In fact about 80% of all breast lumps examined by diagnostic tests are found to be non-cancerous.
Treatment of breast cancer involves much less extensive surgery now than thirty years ago. Surgeons today wish to save as much of the breast as possible and often times with early detection they need only remove the tumor lump itself. This is called a lumpectomy. Of course the further the cancer has spread the more extensive will be the surgery. Usually a course of radiation is prescribed with the therapy. Adding chemotherapy following surgery and radiation will reduce the incidence of a recurrence of the cancer.
Much is being done to find ways for earlier detection and improved treatment. Some scientists believe they may soon be able to identify a gene that indicates a susceptibility to breast cancer.
Remember this: Chances for successful treatment are greatest with early discovery so if you are approaching 50 (or 40 if you are at high risk), see your doctor annually for a checkup and learn proper technique for your monthly self-examination. Don’t let fear or procrastination keep you from doing that which you know can help you enjoy your “good health!”