Breast Cancer Awareness

This time every year we celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  The purpose of this annual campaign is to increase awareness of the disease and the families it affects. While we are aware of breast cancer, we often forget to take the necessary steps to detect the disease early and to encourage other to do the same. Today, millions of women are surviving the disease thanks in part to early detection and improvements in treatment. Although health care and research have made great strides against this disease, we still have a long way to go.

Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States. Breast cancer is a malignant (cancer) tumor that starts in the cells of the breast. It is found mostly in women, but men can also have the disease as well.  According to the American Cancer Society, about 1 in 8 (12%) women in the US will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime.  Other estimates for breast cancer in the United States for 2014 are:
-About 232,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.
-About 62,570 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be diagnosed (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer).  
-About 40,000 women will die from breast cancer

The American Cancer Society is diligently fighting breast cancer by helping women get tested for early diagnosis, and helping them understand and navigate their treatment options and cope with the physical and emotional side effects.

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, exceeded only by lung cancer. According to the CDC, the chance that breast cancer will be responsible for a woman's death is about 1 in 36 (~ 3%). Thankfully, death rates from breast cancer have been declining since about 1989, with the greatest decreases in Caucasian women and women under the age of 50. These decreases are thought to be the result of earlier detection through screening and increased awareness, as well as improved treatment.

Many factors can influence your breast cancer risk or the risk of dying from breast cancer.  Most women who develop breast cancer do not have any known risk factors or a history of the disease in their families. However, there are a number of ways women and men can stay healthy and also lower their risk of breast cancer…
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Get enough sleep nightly.
  • Don't drink alcohol, or limit alcoholic drinks to no more than one per day.
  • Avoid exposure to chemicals that can cause cancer (carcinogens).
  • Try to reduce your exposure to radiation during medical tests (X-rays, CT scans, and PET scans).
  • If taking hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives (birth control pills), ask your health care provider about the benefits, risks and find out if it is right for you.
  • When possible, breastfeed your babies.

Although breast cancer screening cannot prevent this disease, it can help to diagnose breast cancer early while it is easier to manage and treat.  It is important to talk with your health care provider about which breast cancer screening tests are best for you, and when and how often you should have them.  Your past medical history and family history play an important role in determining which test are best for you.
Some routine breast exams include:
Breast Self-Exam:  A breast self-exam is an examination when you check your own breast for masses, lumps, or changes in the size, shape or skin of the breast. It is also important to check under the armpits for any lumps and the nipples for any discharge.  
Clinical Breast Exam:  A clinical breast exam is a physical examination performed by your health care provider.    
Mammogram:  A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that if you are 50 to 74 years old, be sure to have a screening mammogram every two years. If you are 40 to 49 years old, consult to your health care provider about when to start and how often to get a screening mammogram.

It important to perform all screening exams on a regular basis.  Mammograms are the best method to detect breast cancer early before it can be found on a self or clinical breast exam and while it is easier to treat.  Having regular mammograms can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer.

Although breast cancer maybe one of the most common cancers in women, it is also a battle that we are fighting and winning.  We will continue to win this war with more research, better treatment options, early detection and increased awareness.  

The CDC's National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program offers free or low-cost mammograms and education about breast cancer. To find out if you qualify please go to

This entry is dedicated to the millions of warriors who are surviving breast cancer every day.

Live Well,
Dr. D.
Davida J. White, M.D.
Chief Wellness Officer