Dr. Kathleen Toomey
Some things are worth repeating, and when it comes to breast cancer treatment, there is one thing that cannot be repeated enough: Education and early detection are crucial for establishing a treatment regimen that can increase the patient’s chances for survival.
Survival rates are increasing, and have been increasing steadily, since 1990. However, for U.S. women, breast cancer death rates are still among the highest when compared to other cancers.
As women get older, many tend to become less diligent about doing breast screenings and going for their yearly mammograms, since they feel they are no longer at risk due to their age. It is important to remember that breast cancer has no age limit; in fact, your chances increase as you get older. While the survival rate is increasing, so is the number of reported cases, especially in women over 50. About 77% of women diagnosed with breast cancer each year are over the age of 50, and almost 50% are age 65 and older.
The spike in cases in women over 50 can be attributed to a number of factors, including genetics, lifestyle, financial issues, and lack of education and access to prevention and detection methods. Breast screening and access to mammograms can help make a significant difference in early detection and survival rates.
In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I urge women to take advantage of the programs that their community hospitals provide, which often include counseling, screening, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care. Additionally, women need to be aware of preventive measures that they can take to reduce their risk of the disease. The Center for Disease Control recommendations the following prevention tips:
• Get screened for breast cancer regularly. Ask your doctor when to begin mammograms and other screening procedures to detect breast cancer. By getting the necessary exams, you can increase your chances of finding out early on if you have breast cancer. Perform regular self-exams and if you notice any changes in your breasts, such as a new lump or skin changes, consult your doctor for an evaluation.
• Control your weight and exercise. Make healthy choices in the foods you eat and the kinds of drinks you have each day. Stay active. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of breast cancer. This is especially true if obesity occurs later in life, particularly after menopause. Being physically active can help you maintain a healthy weight, which, in turn, helps prevent breast cancer.
• Know your family history of breast cancer. If you have a mother, sister, or daughter with breast cancer, ask your doctor what your risk is of getting breast cancer and how you can lower your risk.
• Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer. If you choose to drink, limit yourself to no more than one drink a day. For more information on alcohol, dietary guidelines, and health, click here.
It is important that men and women with questions about breast cancer speak with medical professionals who can dispel the myths and provide accurate information about the processes used to detect and treat the disease. I encourage women and men to take a breast cancer risk assessment and discuss their results with their physician.
With progress continually being made in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, early disease detection can be life-saving. I urge women to be proactive about having their annual mammograms done and staying educated, and to take advantage of the resources the community offers. By staying proactive, they can significantly increase their chances of beating the disease and join the millions of other breast cancer survivors in living their lives to the fullest.
Dr. Kathleen Toomey, Medical Director, The Steeplechase Cancer Center at Somerset Medical Center