2005-01-28 / Community

Breast Cancer: Not Just An October Concern

By Miriam Rosenberg

Lupita Amadias, a health educator for Health Plus, uses a silicon breast to demonstrate the correct the way to do a breast self-exam during a breast cancer lecture in October.
Lupita Amadias, a health educator for Health Plus, uses a silicon breast to demonstrate the correct the way to do a breast self-exam during a breast cancer lecture in October. Contributing Editor

Breast Cancer is the most common cancer for women in the United States and the second leading cause of death from cancer for females. In addition, the American Cancer Society estimates 1,690 cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in men in 2005.

The disease knows no boundaries as Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, singer Olivia Newton-John, former first lady Betty Ford and talk show host Montel Williams will tell you. They are all breast cancer survivors. Recently Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of former Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Although The American Cancer Society (ACS) reports that death rates have decreased, probably due to earlier detection and better treatment, it still estimates that 40,410 women and 460 men will die from breast cancer in the United States in 2005.

“Early detection is the best prevention,” said Lupita Amadias, a health educator for Health Plus, during a breast cancer prevention lecture at MS 53 last October (National Breast Cancer Awareness Month).

Part of that early detection is breast self-examinations.

“The sooner you start self-exams the better,” she said. “The bad news is most women are not doing it.”

The best time to do a self-exam is seven to 10 days after your period. For women who have already been through menopause, the examination should be done once a month on the same day.

The ACS recommends performing a self-exam lying down. Amadias said it is important to see, as well as feel, any changes in a woman’s breast. Women should talk to their doctors to learn the correct way to do a self-exam.

Mammograms are another step in early detection.

Guidelines by the ACS recommend that women begin receiving yearly mammograms and annual clinical breast exams by a physician at age 40. Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam by their doctor every three years.

Many women find reasons to put off having their annual mammograms. Elizabeth Edwards discussed that in mid-December on the Charlie Rose Show on PBS.

“Now what I won’t do [is] what I did do – neglect mammograms. Now it will be at the top of my list,” Edwards told Rose. She said if her cancer had been found earlier her treatment options would have increased and it would have lessened the chance of the cancer cells going to other parts of her body.

“You’re better protected if you find it early. If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for your family,” Edwards said.

Men must also perform self-exams. If a man prefers, he can have his spouse do it for him.

“Men can request breast exams [at the doctor],” said Amadias. “They have to be self-conscious about this growing problem.”

The problem is, explained Amadias, most men “are in denial” about their chances of getting breast cancer.

Amadias said that age becomes a risk factor for men after 40. The usual age for men to get breast cancer is between 60 and 70 years of age, but that is not always the case.

The National Cancer Institute’s website reports “Radiation exposure, high levels of estrogen, and a family history of breast cancer can affect a man’s risk of developing breast cancer.”

Men need to know more than just the fact they can get the disease. It is also important for men to understand breast cancer so they can help a woman in their life who may be diagnosed with it.

To bring men into the discussion about breast cancer, Men Against Breast Cancer (MABC) kicked off its initial campaign late last year with U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner as an honorary host.

“By and large the legislators in Washington and Albany are men,” Weiner told The Wave at the ACS Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk in October. “We are missing the point if we allow ourselves to [believe] that breast cancer is just a woman’s problem.”

According to the ACS, there are currently over two million women in the United States that have been diagnosed and treated for the disease. This year 211,240 new cases of invasive breast cancer expect to be discovered in women in this country.

Risk factors for women include: age – a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer increases as she gets older; a family history of a close blood relative having the disease; not having children or having them after age 30; and starting menstruating before the age of 12 or going through menopause after age 55. Having a risk factor does not mean a woman will get breast cancer.

Women and men should educate themselves about the disease.

Among the signs of breast cancer is the discovery of a lump or mass, skin irritation or dimpling and nipple discharge other than breast milk.

The following websites contain valuable information about breast cancer: www.cancer.org (American Cancer Society), www.cancer.gov (National Cancer Institute) and www.komen.org (Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation).

The ACS’s 30 year-old Reach For Recovery program is for women and men who are going through breast cancer. Volunteers, who are survivors themselves, give emotional support and advice – in person and by phone. A local Reach For Support program can be found by calling 1-800-ACS-2345. The National Cancer Institute (1 800-4-CANCER) has people available to answer questions and send literature.

St. John’s Episcopal Hospital and Peninsula Hospital Center offer breast cancer services and accept most insurance.

“Our Breast Clinic offers education about breast examination, examinations, diagnosis and treatment…” said Penny Chin, SJEH’s Director of Public Affairs and Marketing in an email to The Wave. “Our imaging Department offers mammograms and ultrasound with a doctor’s referral.

“We also offer oncology and chemotherapy.”

The clinic can be reached at 718 869-7690, and the Imaging Department is at 718 869-7710.

In addition to mammograms and ultrasounds, Peninsula Hospital offers treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation explained Dr. David Schwartz, the President of Peninsula’s Medical Board and the Director of the Department of Radiation/Oncology.

The numbers for the Peninsula Radiation/Oncology Department is 718 734-2620 and for mammograms is 718 734-2611.

Neither hospital has groups that provide emotional support for patients or their families. Yet, Schwartz did say – that in addition to his meeting with patients and their families – PHC could make referrals for support services.

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