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Early detection saves lives

Every October, survivors, advocates and the community come together for Breast Cancer Awareness month. Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is the second leading cause of cancer death among women overall but the good news is that catching breast cancer in its early stages, when treatment is most effective, can save lives. Today, there are a variety of breast screening options available locally at Mercy’s Outpatient Imaging Center including 3D mammography and MRI.


What are the risk factors? Well, being a woman puts you at a higher risk of developing breast cancer – even if you feel healthy. Yes, men can have breast cancer too, but this disease is much more common in women than in men. And, as you get older, your risk of breast cancer increases. Most invasive breast cancers (those that spread from where they start) are found in women age 55 and older.


Breast cancer risk is also higher, but only slightly, among women whose close blood relatives have had the disease. Having a first-degree relative (mother, sister or daughter) with breast cancer almost doubles a woman’s risk. If your brother or father has been diagnosed with breast cancer, your risk can be higher as well. Overall, about five to ten percent of women with breast cancer have a family member with the disease. This means that most women who get breast cancer do not have a family history.


Mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are the most well-known to be linked to breast cancer risk. These genes help prevent cancer by keeping cells from growing abnormally. Cells with defects in these genes can grow abnormally, which can lead to cancer. Genetic testing of these genes is suggested if individuals have either a personal or family history with the possible presence of a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation.


Other breast cancer risk factors are related to personal behavior and over which we do have some control. Both increased weight gain and obesity as an adult are linked with a higher risk of breast cancer after menopause. Alcohol consumption can increase your risk of breast cancer, and the risk increases with the amount consumed. Some studies have found that women using birth control also have a slightly greater risk of breast cancer. However, the risk was found to return to normal over time once birth control pills are stopped. Additionally, not using hormone therapy after menopause can help avoid raising the risk of breast cancer.


Breast cancer screening is important for all women over the age of 40. If you are at a higher risk of breast cancer, you may need to be screened earlier and more often than women at average risk. Breast cancer screening is only recommended for men with a high risk due to family history. The goal of screening tests is to find breast cancer before it causes symptoms, such as an abnormal lump, skin irritation or dimpling, or breast or nipple pain.


The most commonly performed breast cancer screening tests are clinical breast exams and mammograms. A clinical breast exam is done by a healthcare provider during a regular medical check-up. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. Mammograms can find breast cancer in its early stages. It is recommended by the American College of Radiology and the American College of OBGYN both recommend that women age 40 and older get a mammogram every year.


The good news is that women in Douglas County have access to mammography services that ensure easy access to annual screening mammograms. At CHI Mercy Health’s Outpatient Imaging Center, we offer 3D mammography imaging services, fast becoming the standard of breast imaging across the country. This exam offers detailed three-dimensional images, which allow radiologists to examine the breast tissue more closely one layer at a time. Typically, women receive a mammogram and then, if something looks suspicious, additional imaging such as a breast ultrasound, breast MRI or a biopsy may be recommended.


There is no sure way to prevent breast cancer. But, healthy habits such as staying physically active, eating a healthy diet and limiting your alcohol consumption can help limit your risk. And, getting mammography screenings regularly as recommended by your health professional—can help find breast cancer early when it could save your life.


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