Women's Health: Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October
Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October
by Kenneth L. Noller, MD
President, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Breast cancer is the second most common cause of all cancer deaths in women. In 2007, it is estimated that more than 178,000 women in the US will be diagnosed with the disease, and it will kill more than 40,000.
Being a woman and getting older are the two main risk factors for breast cancer. Family history, personal history of certain cancers, no pregnancies or pregnancy later in life, starting your period before age 12, menopause at age 55 or after, obesity, alcohol intake, and use of some types of hormone therapy (HT) can also increase a woman's risk. You can learn more about your risk of developing breast cancer at understandingrisk.cancer.gov/
Breast cancer is often related to prolonged exposure to the hormone estrogen, and excess fat tissue promotes estrogen production. Maintaining a healthy weight or shedding extra pounds can help you control estrogen levels.
Women who drink two or more alcoholic beverages a day are more likely to develop breast cancer than women who drink less. Limit your consumption to fewer than two alcoholic beverages a day.
The use of combined estrogen-progestin HT can increase the risk of breast cancer. ACOG recommends that women use the lowest dose necessary to relieve
menopausal symptoms for the shortest amount of time possible.
Women with breast cancer have up to a 98% survival rate when it is caught at an early stage. Earlier detection and advances in treatment have led to the gradual decrease in breast cancer deaths, but unfortunately, the number of women getting mammograms has also declined.
Routine mammography screening is crucial to identifying a tumor when it is most treatable. ACOG recommends that women ages 40-49 have a mammogram every 1-2 years. Women age 50 and older should have a mammogram annually.
If you have certain risk factors, such as being a carrier of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, your doctor may suggest you have the test at a younger age. High-risk women should discuss their prevention options with their doctors.
Clinical breast exams and breast self-exams may also help find potentially cancerous breast tumors and should be performed on a regular basis.
During National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) in October, organizations at the forefront of women's health and breast cancer research offer educational resources and services to help women detect, manage, and treat the disease. ACOG is a national sponsor of NBCAM and encourages women to use this month to focus on breast health.
For more information about the different types of breast cancer, available treatment options, and how to get free screenings and low- or no-cost prescription medication, go to www.nbcam.com.