Remain Aware All Year
While October is designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it is important for you to monitor your breast health all year long.
Middlesex Health breast surgeons Andrea Malon and Kertrisa McWhite believe that knowledge is power when it comes to breast cancer. While breast cancer can be found in both women and men, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the United States — after skin cancers.
“You need to keep up with regular screenings, know what to look for and when to see a doctor,” Dr. McWhite says. “Detecting breast cancer early is so important, and that knowledge will go far in helping to ensure a positive outcome.”
If individuals go for regular screening, including imaging such as mammography, most breast cancers are found at an early, curable stage before they cause any signs or symptoms, adds Dr. Malon. Imaging is the important tool we have, she says.
Middlesex Health has a Comprehensive Breast Center that is specifically designed to help those who have a newly diagnosed breast cancer, as well as those who may be at high risk due to family history or have certain benign breast conditions. These individuals benefit from being monitored more closely, and Dr. Malon, who serves as medical director of both the Comprehensive Breast Center and Middlesex Health Cancer Center, and Dr. McWhite, who joined Middlesex in May, are both there to help.
“The Comprehensive Breast Center allows us to coordinate care in a way that addresses any health concerns quickly,” Dr. Malon says. “This model also helps to reduce anxiety and helps patients better navigate a cancer diagnosis and treatment.”
Know the signs and your risk.
Being aware of your breast health means knowing the signs of breast cancer. Signs of breast cancer include:
- Feeling a lump in the breast
- Dimpling or puckering of the skin
- Swelling or enlargement of the breast
- Bloody nipple discharge
- Persistent rash or redness of the breast
- A change in the appearance of the nipple
You should also know your risk. Some women are at higher risk than others for breast cancer. Risk factors include:
- A strong family history of breast cancer, especially if a family member was younger than 50 at diagnosis
- A family history of ovarian cancer
- A prior personal history of breast cancer or abnormal cells on a biopsy
- A known family history of a genetic mutation that increases the likelihood of developing breast cancer
- A history of radiation treatments to the chest between the ages of 10 and 30
- Early onset of menses
- Late menopause
- No history of pregnancy
What about genetic testing?
More than ever, genetic screening for breast cancer risk is being recommended. While most patients who have breast cancer don’t have a family history of breast cancer or an inherited genetic mutation, the risk of breast cancer is substantially increased if a mutation is present. In addition, it is important to look at maternal and paternal health histories to see if there is a risk because cancers of the ovary, colon, pancreas and several other organs can also be associated with genetic mutations that increase the risk for breast cancer. Both increased screening and preventive measures can be taken if a mutation is detected.
Individuals with a strong family history of breast, colon, prostate or pancreatic cancer should consider genetic testing, which can be provided by Middlesex Health.
How to decrease your risk
During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, most conversations focus on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and treatment options. And while this is very important information, it is also important for you to know what you can do to decrease your risk of developing breast cancer in the first place.
- Reduce your alcohol intake
- Stay physically active (Studies show that being physically active for four hours each week can decrease the risk of developing breast cancer by 37 percent. )
- Avoid obesity (It is an established risk factor in post-menopausal women.)
More about Middlesex
Middlesex Health’s Comprehensive Breast Center provides complete breast health care to patients of all ages and levels of risk. It is accredited by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers, which recognizes outstanding quality of care provided to patients with diseases of the breast, and it provides state-of-the-art treatment and compassionate care — from screening to survivorship.
Middlesex’s diagnostic imaging facilities in Middletown and Westbrook are each designated as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence by the American’s College of Radiology, and the health system’s Cancer Center, also with locations in Middletown and Westbrook, is ready to provide exemplary care to anyone who needs it.
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