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Early Disease Detection

Things to Remember for Breast Cancer Screening

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In several previous posts, we have always mentioned that early detection is key for most types of cancer – breast cancer included. The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, as part of a series of tip sheets from experts, provided these 10 tips regarding breast cancer screening.

breast cancerWomen who are over the age of 40 are encouraged to get a mammogram, in recognition of the fact that early detection of the disease gives patients the best chance for survival. Despite the fact that there are groups that question the positive impact of mammography to breast cancer survival, the American Cancer Society recommends that women begin to get annual mammograms upon reaching the age of 40.

That being said, however, it is preferable that a patient has her mammograms read by a mammography expert. There are studies that show that doctors who specialize in mammography have the ability to interpret images more accurately when compared to those who have less experience. This will address concerns regarding false positives, which have the tendency to bring more harm than good.

And speaking of false positives and accuracy, it is suggested further that patients with dense breast tissue opt for digital mammography. Digital scans can detect cancer better for them than traditional film mammography. The same thing holds true for women under the age of 50.

Other breast cancer screening tips are as follows: refrain from putting screening off due to discomfort or fear; try to schedule exams such that you can wait for the results; know how your breasts feel normally; get a regular breast exam; know your risk; and try an online risk calculator.

Seattle Health Screening

Early Disease Detection

American Women Still Believe in Mammogram Before 50

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Despite the recent recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), a majority of American women reportedly still believe in getting mammograms using the existing guidelines that are currently being followed.

This conclusion was drawn based on the results of a survey conducted by USA Today and Gallup, the results of which were revealed through a feature on USAToday.com. The survey consists of 1,136 women respondents, and revealed that a total of 76% of this representative population Disagree or Strongly Disagree to the recommendations of the USPSTF.

One of our readers, Cindy, also made her sentiments very clear and expressed displeasure over the recommendations.

mammogramAmong the concerns that women had regarding the new recommendations is that delaying mammograms may place their lives in danger. Most women who responded to the survey reportedly intend to get mammograms before they turn 50, adhering to the recommendations set forth by the American Cancer Society.

The poll also showed, however, that women still make decisions based on preconceived notions that may need to be corrected. For instance, a majority of the respondents reportedly were under the impression that the USPSTF based their recommendations solely on cost, which is untrue. The fact that this recommendation was released at a time when health insurance coverage is a hot topic may have fuelled this belief.

Also, almost half of the respondents believed that the risk of women in their 40s for developing breast cancer is extremely higher that in actually is.

While we do understand the strong reactions of some women over these recommendations, it may be to everyone’s best interest to exercise due diligence in educating one’s self about the disease. Whether it’s the American Cancer Society or USPSTF that is making the recommendation, ultimately, a woman’s body is her own and she should have the right to take care of it as she sees fit. What is important for a woman is to work closely with her physician, revealing pertinent family medical histories and lifestyles and other information that may serve as guidelines towards assessing one’s medical needs.

Early Disease Detection

Breast Density May Affect Risk of Cancer

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A study conducted by researchers at the Women’s College Research Institute in Toronto indicates that the density of a woman’s breast tissue can mean an increased risk for the recurrence of breast cancer.

Women may need to discuss with their respective physicians the need to include breast density in their overall risk assessment for breast cancer. Detecting a tumor in dense tissue is more difficult, and based on the study; women who have higher breast density scores are six times more likely to develop breast cancer.

breast cancerOne of the things that the researchers did was to look into the medical records of more than three hundred women who have undergone a lumpectomy. They looked at their respective mammograms, evaluated the patients’ breast densities and watched for the recurrence of cancer.

The results of the data analysis indicated that the risk for breast cancer was much higher in women who had higher breast densities when compared to women who had lower breast densities. After a period of ten years, those women who had the highest breast densities were found to be 21% more likely to have a recurrence of breast cancer; and among those women with high-density breast tissue who did not undergo radiation therapy after their lumpectomies, the risk for recurrence increased by 40%.

These analyses indicate that breast density may need to be included as a factor that should be considered when coming up with the most appropriate treatment strategy for women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Women whose breasts are denser than others may need to follow-up treatments and therapies in addition to undergoing a lumpectomy.

The reason behind these findings, though, has not yet been determined. The researchers wrote that there was no “biological basis” yet behind the relationships that they found between the density of breast tissue, the risk for breast cancer and breast cancer recurrence.

Early Disease Detection

Breast Cancer: Are Doctors Too Quick to Make “The Cut”?

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When we said “the cut”, we are referring to a mastectomy – and the answer to that question, thankfully, is a no. This is according to a new study conducted by a group that includes Dr. Monica Morrow of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

If and when a mastectomy does occur, it appears that it is not just because a doctor said so; a patient’s preference will also have a lot to do with such a decision.

simple mastectomyWhat this means is that surgeons are not keen on making incisions and performing a mastectomy. On the contrary, if a surgery is to be performed, a majority of doctors will recommend a lumpectomy – a procedure that does not necessitate the immediate removal of the entire breast – over a mastectomy. If a lumpectomy is, indeed, the proper course of action, it can lead to a patient’s eventual cure as many times as a mastectomy can.

Some cancer centers actually report low mastectomy rates, and this is considered as proof that they provide quality care, probably hinting at the fact that doctors are keen on making a thorough assessment and takes care in choosing the appropriate medical action to take; a mastectomy is not considered as the be-all and end-all procedure. When the first surgeon that a breast cancer patient consults immediately advises that she undergo a mastectomy, she is usually urged to go see another doctor and get a second opinion.

As far as mastectomies go, there are patients who simply choose to undergo the procedure based on their own personal preference. It has been mentioned that doctors usually recommend a lumpectomy over a mastectomy more often, but if the first doctor recommends a mastectomy, chances are more often than not that the initial recommendation will be upheld. And then there are women who, despite the fact that their second doctor reversed the recommendation of a mastectomy, still choose to undergo the procedure.

Early Disease Detection

White House Raises Pink Ribbon

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It looks like the White House wants its support of breast cancer awareness known. And apparently, an event in the First Lady’s Garden with the First Lady wearing a pink ribbon on her lapel is not enough.

pink ribbonFive days before the month of October draws to a close, workers at the White House hoist a massive pink ribbon running the length of the columns in front of the structure. It is yet another act in support of breast cancer awareness that has inundated the country this month, which included fun runs and fund raisers and the NFL holding breast cancer awareness games with the players wearing pink pins.

First Lady Michelle Obama spoke at length about breast cancer and the benefits that those suffering from the disease will get to enjoy through the health care reforms that are being advocated by the president, not the least of which will be easier access to early cancer detection procedures.

All this is touching and admirable, and while we do not want to be judgmental, it is our hope that this massive public display of support is truly more about the disease than about rallying support for the health reforms – that it is truly about the compassion than about the politics.

Early Disease Detection

First Lady Michelle Obama Marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month

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The month of October is winding down, but it was not too late for the Obama administration to do its part to raise breast cancer awareness. The First Lady was in the center of it all, donning a pink ribbon on her lapel to indicate her being one with the rest of womankind in the battle against breast cancer.

First Lady Michelle ObamaThe event was held on Friday morning at the First Lady’s Garden (the East Garden) in the White House. In attendance were breast cancer survivors and breast cancer awareness advocates, as well as members of Congress as well as Jill Biden, the wife of the vice-president.

Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Biden together make an ideal team in as far as breast cancer awareness is concerned. Mrs. Obama, after all, used to be a hospital administrator in Chicago. Mrs. Biden has a personal experience with breast cancer as some of her close friends were diagnosed with the disease. This led to her organizing a breast cancer education program in Delaware, according to a feature by the Associated Press.

While the First Lady spoke at length regarding women and breast cancer, perhaps more important are words from someone who knows first hand what it is like. Speaking at the event was breast cancer survivor Joni Lownsdale of Rockford, Illinois, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002. She has since undergone treatment for her tumor and has been given a clean bill of health, with her doctor telling her that she had a 94 percent chance of remaining cancer-free.

Despite that fact, however, Lownsdale recounts how her bout with cancer has become a stigma of sorts in as far as getting health insurance is concerned; her remarks placed her right smack in the middle of the Obama administration’s push for health reforms.

Mrs. Obama pointed out how the health care reforms that the President is advocating will assist in preventing insurers from denying health insurance coverage to people with pre-existing conditions like Lownsdale, as well as require coverage for early disease detection procedures such as mammograms.

Chicago Health Screening

Early Disease Detection

What You Thought is True About Breast Cancer – But Isn’t

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We continue to try to contribute towards increasing breast cancer awareness, as we participate in this month’s observation of Breast Cancer Awareness month.

For this post, we share with you information that we learned from a feature on Fox News regarding the myths surrounding breast cancer. Cancer, after all, is no laughing matter, which is why it is very important that accurate information about the disease is made known to the public.

breast cancer self-examinationHere are some things that you may think you know about breast cancer that isn’t true. First off, we bring to you the myth surrounding the most common symptom of breast cancer — a lump on the breast. Some people may have the notion that having a lump on the breast automatically means that one already has breast cancer. In reality, a majority of these lumps – about eighty percent – are benign and not cancerous. This does not mean that one can simply brush a lump off given the odds. Any woman who discovers a lump on her breast should still see a doctor immediately, as only a trained professional can accurately say whether or not the lump should be a cause for concern.

Next myth is that the mammogram, instead of helping, can cause the cancer to spread. On the contrary, it is by far the best tool available to detect the onset of breast cancer on time.

The absence of breast cancer in the family also does not mean that one is protected from the disease. While having a relative – especially an immediate family member – may increase your risk factor for contracting the disease, it does not mean that one who does not have a family history of breast cancer cannot get it.

Another myth is that having a mastectomy is the be-all and end-all of breast cancer treatments. Not all women who find themselves suffering from breast cancer need to undergo such a drastic procedure. It is also not a guarantee that a patient will become cancer-free after having the procedure.

Early Disease Detection

Breast Self-Examination: The Crucial First Step

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One of the facts that most experts agree upon is that early detection is the key towards the proper treatment of breast cancer. We have probably heard it time and again; a diagnosis is no longer necessarily to be equated with hopelessness. But in order for this to be true, every woman – or man, for that matter – will need to take that first step.

breast examA breast self examination (BSE) is perhaps the cheapest way towards ensuring that breast cancer is detected in a timely manner. While some people may feel that there is may be no direct evidence or statistics that will physically link the procedure to the decrease in mortality among breast cancer patients, it is undeniable that such a simple process can pave the way for the discovery of the disease – hopefully before it is too late. There is, after all, nothing to be lost by taking a few minutes of your time in the shower to perform a self examination every month or so. There are even BSE guides that can be hung in the shower, not only to serve as a reminder but to serve as an instructional tool for doing it properly.

Breast self examination is done standing up in front of a mirror, and then lying down. One is to stand before the mirror with the torso in full view, and starts with a visual inspection of the breasts, looking for signs of dimpling, swelling, or redness. This visual self-evaluation is performed repeatedly while in various positions, such as having the hands at the hips as well as with the arms held overhead.

Next, one should palpate the breasts with the pads of the fingers, trying to feel for lumps or soreness, covering the entire breast. Women who are currently not breastfeeding should also gently squeeze each nipple to check for unusual discharge.

The American Cancer Society provides free materials regarding breast self examination, as do various websites.

As in anything, it is prudent to consult a physician if one observes unusual lumps or redness on the breasts. Remember, the key to breast cancer is to catch it in time; a successful treatment is only possible if it is begun at the right moment.

Early Disease Detection

Breast Cancer Risk Factors: What Women Should Watch Out For

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Still in line with the observance of National Breast Cancer Awareness this month, we would like to do our part in increasing breast cancer awareness; for this post, we are sharing with readers factors that may carry an increased risk for breast cancer. This list was based on a list from the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society.

breast cancerThe risk factors were categorized into two general sets: these are factors that are due to lifestyle, which can be altered by virtue of changes made in a woman’s daily living habits and choices. The second set of factors list those which one cannot do anything about.

Among the lifestyle-related risk factors are decisions that more women choose for themselves as opposed to their counterparts from fifty years ago. At a slightly higher risk for developing breast cancer are women who do not have children or who decide to have them after the age of 30, when compared to women who get pregnant at least once at an earlier age.

Also at a higher risk are women who recently used birth control pills and, in the case of women who have infants, choose to not breast-feed their babies. Undergoing post-menopausal hormone therapy, obesity, lack of exercise, and daily alcohol intake consisting of two or more glasses each day are also listed as risk factors.

Among the factors that one cannot do anything about is one’s gender, age, and genetic risk factors. Having a history of breast cancer among members of the family is also considered as a factor, as well as having a personal history of battling the disease. From a racial standpoint, Caucasian women are said to be more susceptible to developing the disease when compared to her African-American, Hispanic or Asian sisters. Having dense breast tissue, beginning one’s menstrual period before the age of 12 and experiencing menopause after the age of 55 are considered as risk factors, as are undergoing breast radiation before the age of 30 and being treated with diethylstilbestrol (DES).

In order to understand these factors better and assess whether you are indeed at risk, consult your doctor. He or she will also be in a great position to plan an appropriate action plan and schedule tests that you might need.

Early Disease Detection

Breast Cancer Research Advances Bring Hope

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As October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, now may be a good time as any to share recent developments in breast cancer research that will benefit those who may be diagnosed or are suffering from the disease. A feature on the Chicago Tribune begins by presenting what one may consider as concerning statistics: there is a one in eight chance that a woman may be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, and a one in 35 chance that she will actually succumb to it. Breast cancer remains to be the second leading cause of death for American women, trailing behind lung cancer.

breast cancer self-testThis is just one portion of the whole truth, though, and thankfully so. If one is given the full picture, one will realize that there is hope and promise even for those who have been struck by the disease. This is due in part to widespread, proactive and generous efforts towards early detection and continuing research and innovation as far as detection, surgical procedures and treatment is concerned.

The use of drugs such as Tamoxifen and Herceptin has proven to be successful and has paved the way for even more discoveries in as far as therapies are concerned. Research is reportedly being done at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Georgetown Medical Center by one of the leading scientists active in breast cancer research, V. Craig Jordan. He is looking into the possibility of using the natural hormone estrogen to kill breast cancer cells.

Another thing that scientists are looking into is the use of other technologies for early and more accurate disease detection. While the mammogram has thus far played a very important role in increasing the survival rate for breast cancer, the procedure still has a lot of room for improvement. The use of MRI, for example, may yield more reliable results and decrease the occurrence of “false positives” and unnecessary biopsies.

Chicago Health Screening