October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and Lake Regional Cancer Center’s Michael Wang, M.D., a board certified medical oncologist, is encouraging women to learn more about the disease.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and Lake Regional Cancer Center’s Michael Wang, M.D., a board certified medical oncologist, is encouraging women to learn more about the disease.

“Women must take charge of their health and the first step is education,” Dr. Wang said. “During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I hope women will take the time to learn their risks, the warning signs of breast cancer and the recommended screenings. Knowing how to catch this disease early could save a woman’s life or help her save the life of her mother, daughter, sister or friend.”

Things that May Increase Your Risk

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the main factors that influence breast cancer risk are 1) being a woman and 2) getting older. Other risk factors include:

• Mutations in breast cancer-related genes (BRCA1 or BRCA2)

• Having your first menstrual period before age 12

• Never giving birth, or being older than 35 when your first child was born

• Starting menopause after age 55

• Taking hormones to replace missing estrogen and progesterone in menopause for more than five years

• Taking oral contraceptives (birth control pills)

• A personal history of breast cancer, dense breasts or some other breast problems

• A family history of breast cancer (parent, sibling or child)

• Getting radiation therapy to the breast or chest

• Being overweight, especially after menopause

Steps to Decrease Your Risk

You can’t change some of the factors that increase risk, but others you can control. Dr. Wang makes the following recommendations.

• Maintain a healthy weight.

• Exercise regularly, at least 30 minutes per day.

• Eat a healthy diet, and avoid too much alcohol.

• Don’t smoke.

• Avoid birth control pills if you are older than 35 or if you smoke.

• Breast-feed any children you may have for one year or more, if possible.

• If you are taking, or have been told to take, hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives (birth control pills), ask your doctor about the risks and find out if it is right for you.

• If you are at high-risk for breast cancer, talk to your doctor about taking tamoxifen or raloxifene, the only drugs approved in the United States to help lower breast cancer risk.

Warning Signs

Be on the lookout for the following symptoms of breast cancer. If you have any signs that worry you, call your doctor right away.

• New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit)

• Thickening or swelling of part of the breast

• Irritation or dimpling of breast skin

• Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast

• Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area

• Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood

• Any change in the size or the shape of the breast

• Pain in the breast

Screening Recommendations

Breast cancer screening checks a woman’s breasts for cancer before she has any symptoms. According to the CDC, mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms.

The American Cancer Society provides the following breast cancer screening guidelines.

• Women between the ages of 40 and 44 should learn the risks and benefits of mammograms for breast cancer screening and make a choice about whether to be screened.

• Women aged 45 to 54 should get a mammogram every year.

• Women 55 and older should switch to a mammogram every two years, or have the choice to continue annual screening.

• Women should continue to receive screening mammograms as long as their overall health is good and they have a life expectancy of 10 years or longer.

• The American Cancer Society does not recommend clinical breast examination or self-exam for breast cancer screening among average-risk women at any age yet recommends all women be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel and report any changes to a health care provider right away.

Learn more about Lake Regional Cancer Center and cancer treatments at www.lakeregional.com/cancercare.