October marks National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Is there cause for celebration? For many reasons, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Since 1990, the rate of death from breast cancer has been dropping. Research—much of it funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI)—has improved our understanding of breast cancer and produced more effective treatments.
The picture for Hispanic women in the United Sates is mixed. Although Hispanic women are less likely to develop breast cancer than non-Hispanic white women, more than 14,000 Hispanic women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and more than 2,000 will die of the disease. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Hispanic women in the United States and the leading cause of cancer death in this group. Research shows that Hispanic women are more likely to be diagnosed after their breast cancer has progressed to a more advanced stage than non-Hispanic white women And Hispanic women are more likely to die from their breast cancer as non-Hispanic white women diagnosed at the same age and stage.
The good news is that there is power in information. Get the facts. And, as always, talk with your health care provider about your concerns.
Here’s what you need to know about breast cancer:
- Breast cancer is a cancer that forms in tissues of the breast, usually the ducts (tubes that carry milk to the nipple) and lobules (glands that make milk). It occurs in both men and women, although male breast cancer is rare.
- An estimated 230,480 women and 2,140 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. More than 14,000 of those diagnosed will be Hispanic women. But more than four out of five Hispanic women diagnosed with breast cancer will survive at least five years after diagnosis.
- Mammograms are x-ray pictures of the breast that can be used to check for breast cancer in women who have no symptoms of the disease. This type of mammogram is called a screening mammogram. Early detection of breast cancer with screening mammography means that treatment can be started earlier in the course of the disease, possibly before it has spread. If you are age 40 or older, you should have mammograms every 1 to 2 years. Women who are at higher than average risk of breast cancer should talk with their health care provider about whether to have mammograms before age 40 and how often to have them. Some state and local health programs and employers provide mammograms for free or at low cost. Information about low-cost or free mammography screening programs is also available through NCI’s Cancer Information Service (see below).
- Don’t ignore any symptoms. If you notice any changes in how your breasts look or feel, check with your health care provider. Most changes will not be from breast cancer, but they should always be checked.
- Many risk factors for breast cancer have been identified. Risk factors are anything that can increase your chance of developing a disease. Some breast cancer risk factors cannot be changed (such as your age or a history of breast cancer in your family), whereas others can. But having a risk factor doesn’t mean that you will get breast cancer. To better understand your risk of breast cancer, read the NCI publication “Understanding Mammograms and Your Risk of Breast Cancer” at http://www.cancer.gov/
- Women considering hormone therapy for menopause should know that combination therapy–which includes both estrogen and progestin–increases their risk for breast cancer.
- Research has shown that exercise may help lower breast cancer risk. Try to make physical activity a part of your everyday life. Strenuous exercise for as little as 4 hours a week can lower your risk.
- Being obese after you reach menopause may increase your risk for breast cancer. Doctors know that obesity can increase your risk for a number of diseases—so it makes sense to maintain a healthy weight at any age.
- Drinking alcohol can increase your breast cancer risk. If you are concerned, talk with your health care professional about reducing your consumption of alcoholic beverages.