October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the United States, aside from skin cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed among women in the United States this year. Males also can be diagnosed with breast cancer, but male breast cancer cases make up less than 1 percent of all cases of breast cancer. Today, there are about 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.
There are usually no symptoms in the early stages of breast cancer. As a tumor develops, the following signs might be noticed:
A lump in the breast or underarm. These are the often the first signs of breast cancer and are painless. These lumps are usually visible on a mammogram long before they can be seen or felt.
Swelling in the armpit.
Although lumps are usually painless, pain or tenderness in the breast.
A noticeable flattening or indentation on the breast, which may indicate a tumor that cannot be seen or felt.
Any change in the size, contour, texture, or temperature of the breast.
A change in the nipple, such as an indrawn or dimpled look, itching or burning sensation, or ulceration.
Unusual discharge from the nipple that may be clear, bloody or another color.
A marble-like area under the skin.
An area that is distinctly different from any other area on either breast.
There are several types of breast cancer that can be divided into two main categories - noninvasive cancers and invasive cancers.
Non-invasive breast cancer. These cancers are confined to the ducts or lobules and don't spread to surrounding tissues. Most are ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and are only found in the milk duct of the breast. If not treated, they can become invasive cancers.
Invasive breast cancer. Invasive breast cancers penetrate through normal breast tissue and invade surrounding areas. They are more serious than noninvasive cancers because they can spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones, liver, lungs and brain.
As with all types of cancer, early detection is the key for treatment of breast cancer. Although no technology is perfect, mammography screening remains the best available method to detect breast cancer early. Research is under way to improve the technology to lead to better accuracy and create new technologies. Additionally, the U.S. Congress passed the Mammography Quality Standards Act to ensure mammography facilities throughout the country are of high quality and are reliable. Each facility must display a certificate issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to serve as evidence the facility meets quality standards.
Along with mammography screenings, there are several suggestions for women to practice elements of good breast health. These suggestions include:
Obtain regular mammography screening starting at the age of 40.
Obtain annual clinical breast exams.
Perform monthly breast-self exams.
Obtain a breast cancer risk assessment from a physician.
Free breast cancer screenings are available for women 40 and older without health insurance. For details, call the Cancer Services Program at 841-3726.
For more information, visit www.nbcam.org, contact your health care provider or HealthLink Littauer at 736-1120. People also can e-mail HealthLink at email@example.com, visit its website at nlh.org or visit its wellness center at 213 Harrison St. Ext. in Johnstown, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.