One Woman's View
In 2010, an estimated 207,040 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 54,010 new cases of non-invasive — in situ — breast cancer will be diagnosed. Surprisingly, 1,970 of those cases will be in men. Although it is a tiny percentage, men as well as women need to be aware of the possibility. The good news is that the incidence of breast cancer in the U.S. has decreased 2 percent per year between 1999 and 2006.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, I did not have sense enough to be frightened. My thought was, “Nobody dies of breast cancer nowadays.” Wrong! About 39,840 people in the U.S. are expected to die of breast cancer in 2010. Death rates have been declining since 1991, due to treatment advances, earlier detection, and increased awareness.
However, for women, the death rate for breast cancer is higher than any other type of cancer except lung cancer. Also, for women, it is more common than any other type except skin cancer. At the present time there are 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. We are definitely not an exclusive club.
Be aware of some of the risk factors for the disease — some you have a measure of control over. While others are out of your control, knowing about them allows you to be extra vigilant.
The most obvious risk factors are gender and age. However, as already noted, men can get breast cancer, and women can be affected at any age. It is a myth that only older women get breast cancer.
The risk is doubled if a first-degree relative — mother, sister, or daughter — had breast cancer. On the other hand, 70 to 80 percent of patients have no family history of the disease. Genetic tests are available to determine whether you have the gene for the disease. Because of the low incidence of the gene, the test is not recommended as a routine medical procedure. However, if you have a family history of breast cancer, you should probably talk to your doctor about being tested.
It is also a myth that only your mother’s side of the family is relevant in determining hereditary risk; it can also be inherited through your father.
More controllable risk factors include obesity, alcohol and tobacco use, and some medications, including hormone therapy.
The American Cancer Society recognizes the following symptoms of breast cancer: swelling of the breast, skin irritation or dimpling, breast pain, nipple pain or inversion, redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or skin, nipple discharge other than breast milk, or a lump in the breast or underarm area. Any of these symptoms can be from less serious causes, but they should be checked out by a physician.
It is also important to note that the disease often has no symptoms at all. That is why mammograms are so important. I confess that I used to be very cavalier about mammograms, getting them only when I tired of my doctor’s nagging, usually every three or four years.
In 2005, when I finally succumbed to the pressure and got one, I learned that I had ductal carcinoma in situ. Fortunately that is the least aggressive type of breast cancer, and it was caught early. I had absolutely no symptoms I could see or feel. Believe me, the remaining breast gets its mammograms on time.
I urge my readers to do two things. Vote on Nov. 2 and get a mammogram once a year — more often if your doctor recommends it.
Last modified Oct. 27, 2010