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October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Here in the United States, we have been observing National Breast Cancer Awareness month each October for the past 25 years. In support of the cause, many organizations seek to increase public knowledge of the disease in hopes of lowering breast cancer rates and finding a cure. At the plastic surgery practice of Mark Deuber, MD, we want to make sure that our patients are proactive about their health so that if they do develop breast cancer, it is caught in its earlier stages.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 230,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and about 40,000 women will die from breast cancer in 2011. If all women undergo breast cancer testing such as clinical breast exams and mammograms on a regular basis, breast cancer fatality rates could drop off dramatically.

Breast Self-Exams

At one time, monthly breast self-exams were considered an effective screening tool for breast cancer. In the 2000s, several studies were published, showing that breast self-exams do not decrease breast cancer survival rates, but do increase the risk of undergoing biopsies for benign lumps. In response, most medical organizations revised their recommendation that women perform monthly breast self-exams. Instead, they advise women to be aware of the natural consistency of the breasts and underlying tissue; if patients notice changes in the breasts, they should report them to their doctors.

Clinical Breast Exams

Physicians perform clinical breast exams to check for lumps and other breast problems in women. These clinical breast exams are performed in combination with the pap test, which should be done every one to two years. If your doctor detects changes or abnormalities of your breasts, he or she may order additional tests such as a mammogram or biopsy.

Mammograms

According to the guidelines set forth by the National Cancer Institute, women should undergo mammograms every one to two years after they reach the age of 40. Those that are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer (due to family history of the disease, breast density, or other factors) may need to undergo mammograms at an earlier age or more frequently.

For more information on breast cancer prevention, contact your primary care physician.

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