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October 15, 2014



October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month


Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women in the United states (after skin cancer).  More than 200,000 women each year are newly diagnosed with breast cancer.  When breast tissue begins to grow in an abnormal way, it develops into a tumor.  Of course, not all tumors are malignant (cancerous).  Some of these tumors are benign. 


There are many risk factors for breast cancer.  These include age, race, previous history of breast cancer, family history of breast cancer, certain genetic markers, history of radiation to the area, and menstrual/hormonal history, breast density, obesity, alcohol, and sedentary lifestyle.


Breast cancer will often have few to no symptoms.  This is why screening is so important.  Of course, if you notice any change in the appearance or feel of your breasts, you should check with your doctor.


Currently, women over 40 are recommended to have screening mammograms on a regular basis.  Women under 40 are sometimes recommended to have screening mammograms depending on the number of risk factors she may have.  Of course, no test is perfect so women are encouraged to undergo regular breast exams performed by their doctor as well as breast self exam.


In addition to mammography and breast exam, other tools are used to make the diagnosis of breast cancer.  These include Ultrasound, MRI, and biopsy.  A biopsy is when a breast surgeon removes a tiny amount of the breast tissue in question and has a pathologist look at it under a microscope to detect any cancerous cells.


Other tests that are important in breast cancer include hormone receptors and a test for a special type of breast tissue receptor called HER-2.  Knowing about these receptors helps your doctor determine the best treatment options for you.


There are many treatment options for breast cancer.  These include a wide variety of surgical options, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, biological therapy and radiation.  The type of treatment will depend on the type of cancer a person has as well as the stage of the cancer (how far it has advanced). Of course, there are new and emerging therapies that are currently in development as well as lifestyle related recommendations.  You and your doctor should discuss which treatment options are best for you.


One final note, men can get breast cancer too.  If you are a man and notice any breast changes, you should check with your doctor.


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