October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

NJ Top Docs – October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month


Breast cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in women, with one in eight women being diagnosed with it in their lifetime.  It is estimated that over 220, 000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 40,000 will die this year.  While it is rare in men, an estimated 2,150 men with be diagnosed and approximately 410 will die each year (http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-facts).  With such alarming statistics for women, it is imperative for them to know about the precautions they can take to lower their risks.

When actress Angelina Jolie announced that she had a preventative double mastectomy, she inspired many women to take better precaution and be more aware with their breast health.  This sparked many questions from patients like, “Should I have a mastectomy or have both breasts removed?” Breast conservation or “lumpectomy” plus radiation has become the preferred method of treatment for most women.  Prospective randomized trials have proven the equivalence of mastectomy and breast conserving treatment for survival.  Of course there is no survival benefit from removing the other breast.  Bilateral mastectomy is reserved for risk reduction in women who carry the BRCA gene.  BRCA1 and BRCA2 are types of tumor-suppressing genes, according to the National Cancer Institute.  In normal cells, those genes help stabilize the cell’s DNA and help prevent uncontrollable cell growth.  But harmful mutations in BRCA genes can lead to breast or ovarian cancer (www.cnn.com/2013/05/14/health/jolie…).  When Angelina found out that she carried the BRCA1 gene, she had a double mastectomy instead of close surveillance.  This choice decreases her risk of having breast cancer to a few percent.  However, survival is equal to that of women who prefer close surveillance.

Many women are not confident in the way that they are performing their self-exams.  NationalBreastCancer.org has a list of tips on their site that include looking for any changes in breast tissue, size, feeling a palpable lump, dimpling or puckering of the breast, inversion of the nipple, redness or scaliness of the breast skin, redness or scaliness of the nipple/areola area, or discharge of secretions from the nipple.  The diagnosis of breast cancer is not a death sentence.  If diagnosed early, the five year survival approaches a hundred percent.

This month, be sure to schedule a breast exam and remember to perform a self-breast exam monthly.  Reach out to family members and learn more about your family’s health history to see if you have a heightened risk.