Every October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month, an annual worldwide health campaign involving thousands of health organizations and major breast cancer charities that provide breast cancer screenings, while highlighting the importance of breast cancer awareness, education and research.
Of course October isn’t the only month that women should focus on their breast health.
Sponsored by the Seneca Health District, Redding-based Think Pink recently utilized a portable breast cancer screening van located in the Holiday Market parking lot in Chester on Aug. 28, to provide free mammograms for women living in the Chester area (www.norcalthinkpink.org).
Think Pink coordinator Valerie Henderson and mobile mammography chairperson Renee Gunlogson, along with Seneca Hospital District support team Lindsey Theobald and SHD clinic manager Ann Holt, RN, invited women to the mammogram diagnostic screening as a way to provide a convenient way for women to be tested who might otherwise not have easy access to more distant diagnostic centers.
“Our van provided the opportunity for local screening, so that women wouldn’t have to drive to Susanville, Redding or Chico for their diagnostic testing,” said Henderson.
Thanks largely to improved treatmentas well as earlier detection through screening, a woman’s risk of dying of breast cancer dropped 39 percent between the late 1980s and 2015, translating into more than 300,000 breast cancer deaths avoided during that time, according to The American Cancer Society.
“It’s important to do a monthly breast self-exam,” Henderson emphasized. “And if you find a lump or have pain that you find suspicious, notify your doctor and get seen immediately, because early detection can save your life.”
Your doctor can also teach you how to do a breast self-exam to check for lumps on your breasts and under your arms if you’re not sure how to do it properly or what to look for.
Despite much progress, breast cancer is still the second-leading cause of cancer death in women, second only to lung cancer. African-American women have higher death rates compared to whites, even as incidence rates are similar.
The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 268,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in all age groups in the United States in 2019, with over 241,000 of these found in women age 45 and older.
About 40,920 women will die from breast cancer this year alone, based on the most recent available statistics, which includes a mortality rate that is 42 percent higher among black women than white women.
Early detection and treatment is key in reducing mortality rates, based on studies by the ACS and other cancer research institutions.
Screening tests are the only way to find breast cancer before it causes early symptoms.
Numerous studies have confirmed that alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast cancer in women, according to the ACS.
“For each one drink of alcohol consumed per day on average, the risk is increased by about 10 percent,” adding that women who have two to three alcoholic drinks per day have a 20 percent higher risk of breast cancer compared to non-drinkers.
The ACS says that another significant factor is obesity, “which increases the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer by 1.5 times higher in overweight women and about two times higher in obese women than in lean women.”
Research suggests that smoking may to some extent increase breast cancer risk, particularly long-term, heavy smoking and among women who start smoking before their first pregnancy.
Based on ACS statistics, women who get regular physical activity have up to a 25 percent lower risk of breast cancer compared to women who are inactive.
The American Cancer Society says that if you or someone you love are concerned about developing breast cancer, has been recently diagnosed, are going through treatment, orare trying to stay well after treatment, the organization providesimportant information on these topics, while playing a key role in funding that has led to many advancements against breast cancer, saving countless lives in the process.
To learn more about American Cancer Society’s advocacy work and to help make fighting breast cancer a priority in your community, visit acscan.org/makingstrides .
Fundraise and participate in one of more than 250 “Making Strides” events or participate virtually online at makingstrideswalk.org.
The ACS is also “working to make fighting breast cancer a national priority,” and is committed to ensuring that all women have the opportunity to receive lifesaving cancer screenings and services.
“Getting screened for breast cancer is a crucial part of breast health,” Henderson reiterated.
American Cancer Society recommendations
The American Cancer Society offers these recommendations on early detection and effective treatment (from the website at www.cancer.org).
Here are a number of things everyone should know about these important tests.
Breast cancer screening
Screening can find breast cancer early, when the chances of survival are highest. Getting screened annually means your doctor is likely to know sooner if there’s a problem, so you can get effective treatment as early as possible.
The American Cancer Society says there are three types of tests that may be used to screen for breast cancer:
Clinical Breast Exam (CBE): CBE is a physical exam of your breast and underarm area performed by a healthcare provider who’s trained in the technique. It’s often done during your regular medical check-up.
Mammograms: Mammography uses low-dose x-rays to make images of the breast (called mammograms).
While some tumors in the breast are aggressive and grow quickly, most grow slowly.
In some cases a tumor may have been growing for as long as 10 years before it creates a lump large enough to feel.
Mammography can find cancers early, before you would have noticed any symptoms. If you’ve noticed a change in your breast and are getting a mammogram, tell the technologist what you noticed before your exam.
If you ever notice a change in your breast — even if you’ve had a mammogram recently and had normal results — get checked out by a doctor as soon as possible.
Breast MRI: A breast MRI uses magnetic fields to create images of the breast. It’s more invasive than mammography because a contrast agent is given through an IV before the test.
Breast MRI is not a standard breast cancer screening method, but is used to screen some women at higher risk. It may also be used as a follow-up test after an abnormal finding.
How often you get screened and what screening methods your doctor recommends depend on your age and other personal risk factors.
The ACS says that if you and your doctor find that you have a higher risk of breast cancer, you may need to be screened earlier and more often than average.
If you’re pregnant, your doctor may recommend a CBE as part of prenatal care.
Mammograms aren’t recommended to screen for breast cancer during pregnancy because the radiation may harm the fetus.
If you have any concerns about your breasts while you are pregnant (such as finding a lump or noticing a change), the ACS recommends that you talk to your doctor about what test is best for you.
Mammograms are safe and effective for women with implants, but it may be harder to read the results.
If you can, find a mammography center where the technologists and radiologists have experience doing mammograms for women with breast implants.
Let your technologist know you have implants before your exam. They can position the machine and your breast to get the best image of your natural tissue.
While you are breastfeeding, the tissue in your breasts may look denser on a mammogram, making it hard to read.
If you’re due for a mammogram while you’re breastfeeding, talk with your doctor about whether and for how long to delay screening.
You should also check in with your doctor if you notice any unexpected changes to your breasts while you’re breastfeeding.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, most or all health insurance plans should cover yearly mammograms with no out-of-pocket costs for women 40 years of age and older.
If your doctor says you’re at a higher risk of breast cancer because of family history, an inherited gene mutation or other risk factors, you should be screened even if you’re under 40.
Don’t assume that if you don’t have health insurance you can’t get screened.
Each October, during National Breast Cancer Awareness month, many mammography centers offer mammograms at reduced rates for uninsured or underinsured patients.
The following mammography centers provide services that are located within a two-hour drive or less.
Plumas District Hospital
1065 Bucks Lake Road
Quincy, CA 95971
Eastern Plumas Health Care
500 First Ave.
Banner Lassen Medical Center
1800 Spring Ridge Dr.
Susanville, CA 96129
252-2000 ext. 2121
Chico Breast Care Center
Chico, CA 95926
MD Imaging/Women’s Imaging Center
2020 Court St.
Redding, CA 96001
North Valley Breast Clinic
1335 Buenaventura Blvd., 204
Redding, CA 96001
Valley Women’s Imaging
2809 Olive Hwy Ste 120
Oroville, CA 95966