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Dr. Jolanta Cichon: Breast Cancer Screenings Essential to Reduce Risk

Publication: Denton Record Chronicle, Denton

In the U.S., one in eight women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer during her lifetime. Over the past decade, news and information about breast cancer has helped increase awareness about the disease tremendously.

While awareness of breast cancer has improved, the disease unfortunately remains the second-deadliest cancer among American women.

This year in Texas, 17,348 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and 3,178 women will die from the disease. In Denton County specifically, 473 women will be diagnosed and 81 will die as a result. Many people don’t realize men can also develop breast cancer, but 133 men in Texas are expected to be diagnosed in 2014 with 33 cases proving fatal.

Other than adopting a healthier lifestyle, early detection with regular mammograms remains the single most effective way for combating the disease.

As physicians, we know that the earlier we can detect the disease, the more effective treatment can be. When detected early before it spreads, women have a 98 percent survival rate after five years.

While we’ve made tremendous strides in the last 10 years due in part to awareness about the importance of screening and early detection.

Mammograms can detect 80 percent to 90 percent of breast cancer in women who don’t have symptoms, but they are not the only way to identify breast cancer.

Women can screen themselves for signs of breast cancer through monthly breast self-exams, which they should begin to administer in their 20s.

Any irregularities or concerns that are discovered should immediately be reported to a physician.

Clinical breast exams are recommended for women in their 20s and 30s every three years. Women age 40 and older should consider having an annual mammogram, an annual clinical breast exam, and if recommended by a physician, an annual MRI screening.

Women age 50 and older should consider a mammogram and a clinical breast exam at least every two years after discussion with her physician, and if recommended by a physician, an annual MRI screening.

A common myth I hear is that only women who have a family history of the disease develop breast cancer. Cancer cannot be inherited, but a higher risk of developing it can be inherited through gene mutations. Only 5 percent to 10 percent of cancers are from inherited gene mutations, and about 85 percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a family history of this disease.

Women with a family history of breast cancer should discuss genetic testing with their physician. If genetic tests indicate a woman is BRCA-positive, there are a number of risk reduction strategies to discuss with her physician.

Family history isn’t the only pertinent risk factor; age, diet and exercise can also impact risk. Approximately two-thirds of invasive breast cancer cases occur in women older than age 55, though the disease can occur at any age. Being overweight and/or physically inactive increases your risk.

While screenings can help detect cancer, it’s also important to watch for warning signs and symptoms, including:

  • A lump in the breast
  • Change in breast size or shape
  • Redness, scaliness or thickening of nipple or breast
  • Dimpled skin near the breast
  • A lump under the arm
  • Tenderness
  • Nipple retraction
  • Nipple discharge
  • Irritation on the breast, nipple or skin near the nipple
  • Swelling of the breast

If any of these symptoms are detected, contact a physician immediately to be evaluated.

If cancer is diagnosed, women have many treatment options including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, bone-directed therapy or hormone therapy. A combination of treatments may be used to provide the best chance of disease control.

Advances in the fight against breast cancer are made every day. At Texas Oncology, patients have the opportunity to take part in some of the most promising clinical trials in the nation for new drugs and treatments.

In fact, Texas Oncology has played a role in 50 FDA-approved cancer therapies, nearly one-third of all cancer therapies approved by the FDA to date.

Until a cure for breast cancer is found, regular screenings, awareness, and healthy lifestyle choices such as eating well and exercising regularly are among the best tools a woman has to reduce her risk of developing the disease.

Dr. Jolanta Cichon is a medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–Denton North.

This story was originally published in the Denton Record-Chronicle.

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