October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Over the next several weeks, organizations such as the American Cancer Society will work to increase awareness of an all too common disease. You too can take part by spreading information to your family members, friends and, most importantly, yourself.
Breast cancer is a malignant tumor growing in one or both breasts. It typically begins in the milk-producing areas, and should it not be detected, spreads to the outlying breast tissue. Both men and women can contract the disease, but it is most often found in women. In fact, it is the most common cancer among American women, with two million already having been treated in the country. Within the year, an additional 178,480 women will discover that they have breast cancer; 40,460 will die. While you cannot prevent the disease, you can reduce the risk. Regular exercise, a healthy diet (one that avoids alcohol) and a healthy weight can lessen the likelihood. If you do contract breast cancer, it’s best if you detect it early, so watch for breast abnormalities or changes. You can do this in the doctor’s office with clinical breast exams. Women in their 20s and 30s should have a one every three years; women over 40 should have one every year. Older women should also have annual mammograms. And all women, regardless of age, should perform breast self-exams.
Breast self-exams familiarize you with your breast, allowing you to be aware of what’s normal and what isn’t. Self-exams should be done in the shower, before a mirror and while lying flat on your back. In the shower, gently move the fingers of your opposite hand over each breast. Feel for lumps, knots or thickening. Then, move to the mirror; examine your breasts with your arms at your side and with your arms overhead. During this part of the exam, you are looking for visible changes such as swelling or dimpling. Finally, lie flat on your back. Place a pillow under the side of the body you will be examining first. Again using your opposite hand, press with small circular motions, covering a range of pressures. Squeeze your nipple, being aware of unusual discharge or lumps. If, during the exam, you notice any changes to your breasts, nipple or skin, see your doctor immediately. Prompt treatment is just as important as early detection. In fact, the two together are what save lives, and that’s what this month is about: saving lives.
For breast self-exam tools and a comprehensive video visit the Susan G. Komen for the Cure site.�