Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. “Breast cancer awareness is an issue we raise with our patients on a regular basis,” Dr. Monique Small, obstetrician/gynecologist at CBHA, said. “However, national attention focuses on it every October.”

The value of screening and early detection is stressed. More than 249,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer every year, and nearly 41,000 die from the disease annually. Pink ribbons and clothing have come to symbolize breast cancer awareness. “However, there’s more to raising awareness than just wearing pink,” Dr. Small said. “We need to know the risk factors and symptoms.”

Finding cancer as early as possible gives patients a better chance of successful treatment, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). However, knowing what to look for does not take the place of having regular mammograms and other screening tests. “We like to talk to our patients about what is the best time for screening exams like mammograms to begin,” Dr. Small said. “Every patient is different. Most women who have one or more breast cancer risk factors never develop breast cancer, while many women with breast cancer have no known risk factors.”

Some breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary, meaning they result directly from gene defects (called mutations) passed on from a parent. Genetic testing can be done to look for these mutations; however, testing is expensive and might not be covered by some health insurance plans.

“We recommend that patients discuss these complicated issues with their physician if they suspect they might have gene mutations.”

The ACS says the most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. A painless, hard mass that has irregular edges is likely to be cancer, but breast cancers can be tender, soft or rounded.

“It is very important to have any new breast mass or lump or breast change checked by a health provider,” Dr. Small said.

Other possible symptoms of breast cancer include: Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no lump is felt): skin irritation or dimpling: breast or nipple pain: nipple retraction (turning inward) redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin: nipple discharge (other than breast milk).

“Please contact me if you have any questions,” Dr. Small concluded. She can be contacted at CBHA by calling 509-488-5256.