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Breast cancer awareness helps women protect themselves

October 13, 2003|by Christine L. Moats

Breast cancer can be treated successfully when caught early.

According to Patty Hanson, administrative director of the John R. Marsh Cancer Center at Robinwood Medical Center in Hagerstown, the first defense is regular mammograms, clinical breast exam and breast self-exam. Knowing the factors that increase the risk of having breast cancer is another.

According to the American Cancer Society, men can develop breast cancer, but breast cancer in women is about 100 times more common. Risk increases with age. About 18 percent of breast cancer diagnoses are among women in their 40s while about 77 percent of women with breast cancer are older than 50 when diagnosed.

Many factors that raise a woman's odds for developing breast cancer cannot be controlled. Risk is higher among women whose close relatives have the disease. Having a mother, sister or daughter with breast cancer almost doubles a woman's risk of developing breast cancer, and having two such relatives increases her risk five-fold. White women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than black women. However, black women are more likely to die of breast cancer because they often are diagnosed at an advanced stage of cancer, when it is harder to treat and cure. Women who started menstruating before age 12 or who went through menopause after age 50 have a slightly greater risk.

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Somewhat controllable factors that may increase risk include: having a first child after age 30; using oral contraceptives; long-term use of hormone replacement therapy, obesity, high-fat diets and use of alcohol.

Increased risk does not mean someone will have cancer; rather it allows people to be more aware of their health and take the steps to monitor it. For more information, visit the KidwellEngland Cancer Resource Center in the John R. Marsh Cancer Center, Suite 129, at Robinwood Medical Center. Books, videos and other sources of information are available on many cancer topics for anyone who would like to learn more.

- Source: American Cancer Society




Christine L. Moats is a wellness coordinator at Washington County Hospital

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