Self checks advised to catch breast cancer early

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Pam Vecchio, APRN, Hot Springs Family Medicine said there are a few things you can do should you find a lump, or already be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Before you start with the fight against the disease, you first should be aware of a few things. Sometimes, people who are proactive in self checks can find out that a bit sooner than those who may not self check or be aware of the symptoms, and have a better chance of beating the disease.

Vecchio said that one of the most common symptoms that are missed is a new lump or mass in the armpit or in the breast. This can include increase pain or swelling with or without a lump. Other indicators are nipple changes, such as inversion and/or discharge from the nipple; or even skin on the breast that is itchy, scaly, dimpled or puckered.

She encourages anyone who finds changes in the area to seek medical attention immediately and to get fully checked out. Breast cancer doesn’t just occur in women, one in one thousand men develop breast cancer as well, and the symptoms are the same.

Development of the cancer you may have is determined by the type of breast cancer it is, and the hormones that are available to feed it.

“Fifty percent of breast cancers are rapid growing, they can double their size in up to 25 days. One third of breast cancer grows intermediately, they can double in size up to 26 to 75 days. Fifteen percent are slow growing, doubling their size in 76 or more days,” she explained.

When asked about some of the bigger misconceptions that are heard from breast cancer patients on becoming diagnosed, she said, ”Mammograms do not cause breast cancer or cause it to spread; because of the low doses of radiation the risk is low.”

She went onto say, ”Breast cancer is not contagious, Women with the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene have five times the risk of developing breast cancer, but it is not a guarantee, Deodorant does not cause breast cancer and only 10 percent of women diagnosed have a family history of breast cancer; 90 percent do not.”

BREAST CANCER has proven not to care about “who” you are or “where” you come from. Though ages can play a factor into when you may be at risk, or lifestyle for that matter, Vecchio said the following when it comes to a good age to begin self checks:

“Some references do not recommend regular breast checks, but some still remain diligent with this approach. Breast self-exams should begin around 20 years of age and it is encouraged to do this monthly several days after the end of your period. How-to information to perform this can be found on breastcancer.org,” she said.

Although there are those men and women out there that may pose a family history to breast cancer, some may or may not be of high risk to being diagnosed with breast cancer themselves. So how would you know if you were at high risk, Vecchio explains this a little further.

“People in the high-risk category are with personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer, have positive genetic factors BRCA or those that have had radiotherapy between the ages of 10 and 30 years old,” she explained.

For the high-risk category, genetic counseling can be recommended as well as yearly mammograms and breast MRI. All other women in the low- or moderate-risk category should start yearly or every other year mammograms at the age of 40 up to 75 years of age.

ONE OF the last things Vecchio spoke about was what help is available for those within the county and both for immediate and after-care options.

“Cancer Network of Sanders County (CNSC) offers financial assistance to those undergoing treatment for cancer. Sanders County Council on Aging offers a multitude of programs from Meals on Wheels to respite and homemaking services as well as assistance with insurance and financial programs available, and the Clark Fork Valley Home Health and Hospice are available to come to your home for any skilled nursing needs,” she said.

There is also the question of what family, friends and community members are able to do with those that are battling cancer. Vecchio explained that there are multitudes of studies that show that breast cancer survival is much greater in those that have strong social support than those who don’t.

Although each day is different, when battling cancer, sometimes it is merely just sitting in the company of someone that you enjoy spending time with. Or even leaning on a pet, since pets have also proven to help lift spirits for those that are feeling down on multiple levels, according to a range of studies.

Though now that we see the ridge in Breast Cancer Awareness Month during October, those organizations that support and offer information also encourage people to speak about the disease when and if they can.

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