A Woman’s View: breast cancer

By Donna Ward

Breast Cancer is a devastating disease that is the sixth cause of death for women in the country. Everyone has battled breast cancer in someway, either with their family members or friends, colleagues at work, neighbors or themselves. Yet there are many women in the NEast who are still unclear about the causes and preventative measures they can take to help ensure their health, as well as the health of their loved ones.

“I contracted breast cancer when I was 42 and was so surprised,” said Catherine Collins, a NEast woman shopping at Roosevelt Mall.  “I didn’t know you were able to get breast cancer at so young of an age. I am going to be 62 this February and I am still battling the disease I’ve had on-and-off bouts with it, but it came back again in the summer. What has helped me the most is having support and understanding from my family. People don’t realize just how important a good state of mind is to help you battle cancer.”

A common misconception about breast cancer is that you can only develop the disease when you are older or past a certain age. While the risk factor increases greatly with age, it is also good to be aware of the chances at any age. If you have a family history of breast cancer your risk for developing the disease almost doubles. Statistics show that the overall lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is about one in eight women. The chart below from the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Web site shows the likelihood of a female’s possibility for contracting breast cancer by age.

AGE        RISK OF DEVELOPING BREAST CANCER IN THE NEXT 10 YEARS

20                     one in 1,837 30                     one in 234 40                     one in 70 50                     one in 40 60                     one in 28 70                     one in 26

    “My mother is battling breast cancer and has for about 10 years now,” said Lynn Romeo, a NEast shopper at Franklin Mills Mall. “She will be 72 this April and it is still a hard road for her. Luckily, there have been new developments by organizations to find new medicines that are less harsh then chemo.”

    The best defense is a good offense; breast cancer is best beaten by early detection. The best way for women to detect any unnatural growth in their breasts is through self-examination. No one knows your body as well as you do, but it is also a good idea to have regular clinical breast exams, as well. It is advised for women over the age of 40 and women who have a history of breast cancer, either in their family or personally, to have yearly mammograms. The sooner a lump or abnormality is detected, the greater chance for survival. In fact, if breast cancer is found early enough and confined to the breast the five-year survival rate is 98 percent, and most women will not have recurrences.

    There are a few factors that have been speculated over the years, which may contribute to breast cancer causes. Studies have shown that women who breastfeed their children for a lifetime total of one year or more have a slightly smaller chance of developing cancer in the breasts. Women who breastfeed for a lifetime total of two or more years decrease their chances of developing breast cancer by an even greater percent. This does not mean that women who have never breastfeed will get breast cancer; it simply means that by breastfeeding, your chances may decrease according to statistics.

    Women who use contraceptives with hormones or birth control pills run a 10 percent to 30 percent higher risk of developing breast cancer. This study was based on women taking older or higher-dose versions of the pill. However, nowadays studies are still being conducted to relate modern birth control pills to the risk of breast cancer.

    While these statistics may be alarming, most women who are on the pill are younger and pre-menopausal and therefore already have a lower risk of developing breast. Taking birth control does not mean you will be battling breast cancer in the future. It simply means that there is a possibility (though not thoroughly proven) it may contribute to why certain women develop breast cancer. Consulting with your doctor about the right birth control for you will help alleviate potential problems or concerns in the future.

    One of the biggest contributing factors to the development of breast cancer is family history. In the event that a family member has developed breast cancer, especially a mother, sister or daughter, it is important to understand that while your risk for contracting the disease increases, it is not always certain that breast cancer will develop. Regular check-ups with your doctor and self-exams for early detection will help reduce your risk factor. Women who maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly can decrease their chances of developing breast cancer by a small percent.

    In the event that breast cancer tumors develop, which can happen no matter a person’s lifestyle choices, it is imperative to contact your doctor as soon as possible. There are several hospitals in the NEast area that specialize in cancer treatment. Fox Chase Cancer Care Center and Abington Memorial Hospital are two of the best in the NEast area specializing in the latest treatments and research.

    “I have been going to Abington Hospital for as long as I have been battling cancer and the people are great. All I can say is I am still here,” Collins said.

    It is important to understand that if you develop breast cancer there are many options and new treatments available. Chemotherapy is not always necessary in every circumstance. You are not alone in the battle. Everywhere you go, you can see people displaying the well-known pink ribbon as a symbol of support for their loved ones or themselves.

    Breast cancer is a very real and frightening part of life that does not just effect women. The more you know the better you can prepare yourself and loved ones for the future.

    “I am so grateful to all the people who donate and walk for the cure,” Collins said. “If we keep getting the issue out there maybe one day they will find a cure.”

    A Woman’s View is a column about women’s issues written by NEast Magazine’s columnist, Donna Ward. The column appears every other Thursday on NEastPhilly.com.

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