Oak Hills Womens Center

It's "PINK" time again

Dr. Carolyn's Corner


Have you noticed lately how much "pink" is around? Believe me, it's everywhere-from clothing, magazines and billboards to the NFL games, in which players and coaches are wearing pink gear, practically from head to toe. This is great, because it shows how much our nation is aware of the importance of spreading the word about breast cancer prevention. As all women should know, October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the pink ribbon has been its symbol for many years. I find it exciting that the "pink ribbon" can be found all year round, not just in October, and it always carries the same meaning-the importance of prevention and early detection of breast cancer.

Two things that women should know about are their risk factors for breast cancer and current guidelines for screening tests, such as mammography.

There are many factors which seem to increase or decrease a woman's risk of developing breast cancer. Of course, some of these are controllable (such as lifestyle choices), but many are not. Some of the common factors are:

      1) Age-1 in 8 cases of invasive breast cancer occurs in women under 45. 2 out of 3 are found in those over 55.

      2) Genetics-5-10% of cases are thought to be hereditary (resulting from gene defects.)

      3) Family History-having a 1st degree relative (mother or sister) with breast cancer doubles a woman's risk. It is important to understand, however, that over 85% of women who get breast cancer DO NOT have a family history of it, which makes for a perfect reason to undergo routine screening.

      4) Personal history of breast cancer-increases the risk 3-4 times of developing a new cancer in the opposite breast.

      5) Race-overall, white women have a slightly higher risk than Afro-Americans, but are less likely to die from breast cancer.

      6) Obesity may increase the risk, but this may be lowered by physical activity/exercise.

      7) Alcohol intake-definitely increases the risk. 2-5 alcoholic drinks/day increases the risk 1 ½ times that of a nondrinker.

      8) Combined HRT (estrogen and progesterone) increases the risk and the cancer may likely be found at a more advanced stage. After 5 years of stopping HRT, the risk has been shown to go down. It is important to know that the popular "bio-identical" or " natural" hormones carry the same risks as the synthetics.

      9) Birth control pills may slightly increase the risk, but this goes down over time after stopping.

      10) Early onset of periods (menarche) and late menopause increase the risk.

The current screening guidelines are simple: Women over 40 should have a yearly mammogram! Clinical breast exams starting in a woman's 30s should be done every 2-3 years. BSE (breast self exams) should be done monthly, starting in a woman's 20s, for the purpose of being aware of what is normal for oneself, not for self-diagnosis.

I encourage everyone to go to the American Cancer Society website, where you can find an early detection and prevention checklist. Most importantly, help to educate other women. Someone will thank you for it!

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