Early detection major key to surviving breast cancer

Published 8:05 pm Thursday, October 16, 2008

Anyone who has lost a loved one to breast cancer knows the importance of awareness about the disease, and to educate the public, October has been designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

According to the American Cancer Society, it’s estimated that about 178,480 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2007. About 40,460 women will die from the disease this year. The ACS also reports there are slightly more than 2 million women living in the U.S. who have been treated for breast cancer.

Breast cancer is a malignant tumor that grows in one or both of the breasts. Breast cancer usually develops in the ducts or lobules, also known as the milk-producing areas of the breast.

The key to combating the disease is early detection, said Chanel Giddens of Sacred Heart Medical Oncology in Opp.

“Breast cancer is one of the few cancers that, if caught early enough, the success rate is just so high,” Giddens said. “That’s why self exams are so important.”

Giddens said general practice used to call for women to undergo mammogram testing at age 40; however, that age has decreased to 35.

“Self exams should be performed every month and after a woman had gone through her menstrual cycle,” she said. “If you do it every month, you’ll notice any type of change — whether it’s a large lump or something slight.

“No matter what you find, it needs to be checked out by a professional,” she said. “Sometimes the slightest thing can turn out to be major. That’s not always the case, but that is why it’s so important to be checked.”

After lung cancer, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women. It is also the most common cancer in women in the United States. Although African-American women have a slightly lower incidence of breast cancer after age 40 than Caucasian women, they have a slightly higher incidence rate of breast cancer before age 40. However, African-American women are more likely to die from breast cancer at every age. Breast cancer is much less common in males; by comparison, the disease is about 100 times more common among women. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2007 some 2,030 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among men in the U.S.

“Women aren’t the only ones that can get breast cancer,” Giddens said. “Early detection is crucial to treatment, which is why the age for mammograms has dropped to 35. Of course, if you have any family history — mother, sister, aunt, grandmother or even on your father’s side — you need to be screened sooner.”

Giddens said generally insurance will pay for these screenings when one reaches the age of 35.

For those who do not have any type of insurance, assistance is available through the Covington County Health Department participation in the Alabama Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.

Women aged 40-64 who has no insurance or who are underinsured and meet certain income requirements are eligible for a free mammogram. Participants are issued vouchers to be taken to a local hospital for the test.

For more information, contact the CCHD at 222-1175.

“All that matters is that you get screened and get screened early,” Giddens said. “That’s the key to beating the disease — catching it early.”