Insightsthe blog of Porter Hills
Breast Cancer Awareness
With breast cancer effecting one in eight women over the course of their lifetime it is difficult to find someone who has not been affected by this disease. It seems anywhere you go you can find a women who has had breast cancer, a family who has watched a love one suffer from it, or a friend of a friend who has had it. October is Breast Cancer awareness month.
When I decided I wanted to get educated not only about breast cancer, but more specifically breast cancer in the elderly, I knew I needed to go to the experts. I asked around and was soon connected with Jennifer Jurgens Executive Director of Susan G Komen West Michigan. I knew I had found the right person when less than a week after talking with her I had volunteered to run the registration table at the annual Komen Race for the Cure in Grand Rapids. I feel blessed to have learned so much from her and the wonderful organization which is Susan G Komen West Michigan. My hope is to pass this information along in an effort to continue to raise awareness for this preventable and very treatable disease.
At Porter Hills we focus on the health and wellness of our senior population and I was surprised to learn the increased risk facing our seniors. There are two major risk factors for getting Breast Cancer. The first being gender (female) and the second is age. In the United States women over 65 years of age represent about 13% of the total female population but account for nearly 50% of the newly diagnosis breast cancers. More than 60% of breast cancer deaths occur in women over age 65. Breast cancer is a health concern for all women, but elderly women have an increased risk of this disease.
What is Breast Cancer?
In a healthy body, natural systems control the creation, growth and death of cells. When these systems malfunction, more cell growth than death can occur. The result is a mass of tissue we call a malignant tumor—or cancer. And when this process takes place in the breast, it is breast cancer. Tumors in the breast tend to grow slowly; by the time a lump is large enough to feel, it may have been growing for as long as 10 years. Some tumors, however, are aggressive and grow much faster.
There are lots of risk factors linked to breast cancer. The two most common, being a woman and getting older, are beyond your control. But some things, like exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and limiting your alcohol consumption, are within your power. In this section, you’ll get a better understanding of risk, the factors that affect it, how to assess your risk and how to manage it. Knowing these things can help you make decisions about your lifestyle and, working with your health care provider, determine a breast cancer screening plan that is right for you.
The Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool (the Gail model) was designed by researchers at the National Cancer Institute and the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project as a tool for health care providers. The tool calculates a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer within the next five years and within her lifetime (up to age 90). It takes into account seven key risk factors for breast cancer.
- Age at first period
- Age at the time of the birth of her first child (or has not given birth)
- Family history of breast cancer (mother, sister or daughter)
- Number of past breast biopsies
- Number of breast biopsies showing atypical hyperplasia
Talk with your doctor regarding this tool and if it is right for you. Below are some questions which may be helpful to ask your doctor regarding your risk.
For those at average risk of breast cancer
- What steps can I take to lower my risk of breast cancer?
- What factors may increase my risk?
- How can I estimate my risk of breast cancer? How accurate are the methods?
- What breast cancer screening tests should I have and when should I start?
- How do I find out if I have dense breasts?
- I have been told I have dense breasts. How does having dense breasts increase my risk of breast cancer?
- If I have dense breasts, what breast cancer screening tests should I have?
- What is the best way for me to manage my menopausal symptoms?
- Is menopausal hormone therapy (postmenopausal hormone use) a safe way to manage them? Are there other options?
For those at higher risk of breast cancer
- I’ve been told I’m at high risk for breast cancer. What should I do?
- Should I take tamoxifen or raloxifene? Do the benefits of these drugs outweigh the risks for me?
- What about prophylactic mastectomy or oophorectomy?
- When should I start breast cancer screening? How often should I get screened?
- What breast cancer screening tests should I have?
- Can you discuss some of the options (such as breast MRI) and when would you recommend them for me?
- What is the best way for me to manage my menopausal symptoms? Is menopausal hormone therapy (postmenopausal hormone use) a safe way to manage them? Are there other options?
- Are there clinical trials enrolling people at higher risk of breast cancer? If so, how can I learn more?
Screening and Early Detection
Regular screening tests (along with follow-up tests and treatment if diagnosed) reduce your chance of dying from breast cancer. After all, screening tests can find breast cancer early, when the chances of survival are highest. That’s why we fund local programs that provide screening tests in communities. So more people can have access to these valuable and important tools. But there are also things you can do to help improve your chances of early detection.
Know Your Normal-When other parts of your body look or feel different than they normally do, you notice. For example, if you see an unusual rash on your arm, or a worrisome change in a mole or have a toothache, you’re likely to visit your health care provider to check it out. The same should apply to any changes in your breasts. The warning signs and symptoms can be found at http://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/WarningSigns.html which provides clear and concise picture examples of what to look for
All of this and much more can be found on the Susan G Komen Website http://ww5.komen.org/ or by calling Susan G Komen of West Michigan at 1-877 GO KOMEN.