Awareness, early detection of breast cancer can save lives

Thursday, October 23, 2003

A simple breast self-exam could save a woman from the devastation that comes with cancer and chemotherapy.

Early detection of breast cancer is helping to curtail the rise of the disease and improves its treatment, according to statistics from the American Cancer Society.

However, more than 200,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Though the number is decreasing, awareness campaigns are still necessary, area health-care providers say.

It used to be that speaking about breast cancer was taboo.

"It wasn't something you talked about 25 years ago," said Nancy Mattingly, Cancer Center coordinator at Southeast Missouri Hospital.

Women had it but didn't talk about it, she said. Now everything from yogurt labels to cereal boxes tell women and their families about the need for early detection of breast cancer.

"The more awareness that you create, the more lives that you save," she said.

Death rates from the disease are going down, according to statistics. But "there's still a lot of young women developing breast cancer," said Mattingly, who helped develop the Buddy Check 12 system that encourages women to do a breast self-exam on the 12th of each month.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

The American Cancer Society encouraged area women to make a phone call and "tell a friend Tuesday." The campaign encouraged women to call five friends and ask them to get an annual breast exam or mammogram.

But often, the struggle is in getting women to follow up with regular mammograms, said Trinka Hileman, director of Womancare at St. Francis Medical Center.

"We have women who might have skipped a year or two and then they just panic," she said. If they'd been coming yearly for mammograms, lumps might have been detected sooner.

"Breast cancer is very treatable if found in the early stages," Hileman said.

Women between the ages of 35 and 40 should have a baseline mammogram and then a once-yearly exam after 40. Women over age 50 have a greater risk of developing breast cancer, but so do women with a family history of the disease.

"Women used to think that breast cancer was something that only older women got," Mattingly said.

Most women diagnosed with breast cancer have some type of surgery, whether it's a lumpectomy to remove only the lump in the breast or a total mastectomy to remove the entire breast. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy also are possible treatment methods, and sometimes are used in conjunction with a surgery.

"Women have time to do research and check their options. But the big key is early detection," Hileman said.

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