Thursday, November 1, 2012

Take Control of Your Health: What you need to know about Breast Cancer

Although October and Breast Cancer Awareness Month has passed, we still wanted to share our health education article on breast cancer and remind you to get screened anytime of the year.

Take Control of Your Health:  What you need to know about Breast Cancer

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), breast cancer is the most common cancer in women of all ethnicities and races, and it is the second leading cause of cancer-related death among Asian and Pacific Islander women. Also, according to the Office on Women’s Health, the screening rates among minority women tend to be lower, especially among Asian American women, who are the least likely to get screened. Although breast cancer rates differ with each racial minority, it is important to understand that breast cancer affects all women, no matter the race or ethnicity.

Cancer is a term used for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues. Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems. A tumor is an abnormal mass of tissue that results when cells divide more than they should or do not die when they should. The tumor can be either benign, which means it is non-cancerous, or it can be malignant, which means it is cancerous. Breast cancer is when the cancer cells are found in the tissue of the breast. Breast cancer can occur in both men and women, but it is more common among women.

Especially in the beginning stages, breast cancer does not show many signs or symptoms. As the cancer progresses, certain symptoms may be present, such as: a breast lump or thickening that feels different from surrounding tissue, bloody discharge from the nipple, change in the size or shape of a breast, changes to the skin over the breast, inverted nipple, peeling or flaking of the nipple skin, redness or pitting of the skin over your breast- like an orange.

There are certain risk factors which can increase your chances of developing breast cancer. These risk factors include: being female, aging, family history of breast cancer, inherited genes, radiation exposure, obesity, beginning menstruation at a younger age, starting menopause at an older age, having your first child at an older age, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.

Because breast cancer may not have symptoms in the beginning states, and it can develop in the absence of risk factors, it is very important to follow screening recommendations. The American Cancer Society recommends that women receive Clinical Breast Exams (CBEs) every 3 years starting from the age of 20. When women reach age 40, they should receive a CBE every year. Furthermore, the Office on Women’s Health supports the guidelines that women should receive mammograms every 1-2 years starting at the age of 40. A mammogram is a low dose x-ray exam that checks the breast tissue for abnormalities. Women are also encouraged to become familiar with the way their breasts normally look and feel so they can report any changes to their health care provider. The combination of these screening recommendations can help find breast cancer early, when it’s most treatable.

It is in your hands to take control of your health. The Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, Asian American Health Initiative (AAHI) encourages you to contact your primary care doctor for a screening if you have not yet received a CBE or mammogram. If you are a Montgomery County resident, low income, and uninsured, you can learn about low-cost and/or free breast cancer screenings by calling any of the following: 1) Women’s Cancer Control Program at 240-777-1750, 2) Holy Cross Hospital Mammogram Assistance Program at 301-754-8407, or 3) Montgomery Cares Clinics at 240-777-0311.

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