Old News Archive

Breast Health & Education for Women and Men

October 06, 2006 - TRC

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Knowing about the risk factors for breast cancer as well as the various screening methods is very important for men and women. The best protection is early detection !

Although there is a lot of speculation about it, the exact cause of breast cancer is unknown. Researchers have identified a number of factors that may increase a woman's risk of having breast cancer at some point in her life. Simply being born female is the number one risk factor for breast cancer ! Other risk factors include having a mother, daughter or sister who has breast cancer; starting menopause after 55; having inherited mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 breast cancer genes; having more than one alcoholic drink per day; being overweight after menopause; smoking; never having children; and having received hormone replacement therapy. Although having one or more risk factors does not mean that a woman will get breast cancer, women who have risk factors need to be especially diligent in their regular breast cancer screenings.

Men can get breast cancer too ! Although much more rare than female breast cancer (the overall ratio of female to male breast cancer in the U.S. is 100 to 1), that is still roughly 1,690 men who will be diagnosed each year with the disease. Risk factors for men include getting older; having family members (male or female) with breast cancer, especially with a BRCA2 mutation; having your chest area exposed to radiation treatment; chronic liver disorders; and having a genetic condition such as Klinefelter's syndrome. The screening methods are the same for men as for women.

All women over the age of 20 should be performing breast self-exams (BSE) once a month in order to learn the normal look and feel of breasts, as well as to check for changes each month. If a woman no longer has a period, she should do her BSE on the same day each month. If a woman feels any change, she should ask her doctor to examine the area. Men can use this same screening technique to do their own BSE once a month. For step-by-step instructions, visit www.komen.org/bse.

A clinical breast exam is an exam by a health care provider. This exam should be part of your regular check up and if it is not, then you should ask for it ! A health care provider is very skilled at feeling the entire breast and underarm area, as well as doing a visual examination, and will tell you if something looks or feels abnormal. As appropriate, the provider will refer you to follow-up care. A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast using an x-ray machine designed for that purpose. A mammogram can detect many cancers before they can be felt. All women age 40 and older should have a mammogram every year.

To learn more about breast cancer, both the Susan G. Komen Foundation, www.komen.org. and the American Cancer Society, www. cancer, org. have a lot of fantastic information and resources available. The Maine Breast and Cervical Health Program and the Breast Health Resource Initiative are two area programs that can help women get access to free clinical breast exams and mammograms, and they also provide education and resources to community members. For more information, contact Jessica Carter at 973-3615, Maria Staples, Family Enrichment Services (FES) Events Coordinator, at 973-3586, or Izzy Warren, FES Family Planning Specialist, at 564-2847.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation, www. komen. org and The Maine Breast and Cervical Health Program, http://www. maine.gov/dhhs/bohdcfh/bcp/index.htm

Contributed by Jessica Carter, Penquis Breast and Cervical Health Program Coordinator

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.