Ask a Nurse: Breast Cancer and You

Pamela is an RN, MSN/Ed.

Pamela is a mother of 6 amazing children ages 11 to 24. She is a nurse educator and loves to travel overseas to work in medical clinics and teach health-related topics to schools and communities. She has been married to her best friend, Steve, for 29 years. She has many different interests including reading, writing (NOT arithmetic!), baking, teaching, and spending time with her family. She lives in central Pennsylvania with her husband and two youngest daughters.

Dedicated to my dear friend, Pat-your faith, courage, joy and love are a blessing to me!

I love you, friend.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Almost everyone can tell you of someone in their family, or someone they know, who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer is defined as, “cancer that forms in tissues of the breast, usually the ducts (tubes that carry milk to the nipples) and lobules (glands that produce milk).”  It occurs in both men and women, although male breast cancer is rare. In 2012, it was estimated that there would be 226,870 new cases in females and 2,190 new cases in males. Deaths from breast cancer for 2012 were estimated to be 35,910 for females and 410 for males.

I’m sure you have heard of the Susan G. Komen for the cure foundation. This foundation, began when Susan Komen’s sister promised her that she would do everything she could to find a cure for breast cancer. Since 1982, this foundation has raised almost 2 billion dollars for breast cancer research! There are many ways to get involved; one is to participate in a “race for the cure” event. To search for a race, go here.

Here are some facts about breast cancer:

  • Every 3 minutes, a woman in the United States is diagnosed with breast cancer
  • Every 13 minutes, a woman in In the US dies from breast cancer
  • If breast cancer is found and treated early (stage 1), 95% diagnosed will be cancer free in 5 years
  • Signs of breast cancer include any or none of the following (sometimes there are no “signs”):

*a lump, hard knot or thickening

*swelling, warmth, redness or darkening

*nipple discharge that begins suddenly

*change in breast size or shape

*itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple

*dimpling or puckering of the skin

*pulling in of your nipple or other part of your breast

*new pain in one spot

Remember, these are not always signs of cancer! You need to see your doctor for a diagnosis.

  • Over the course of a lifetime, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer
  • Around 20-30% of women with breast cancer have a relative who has or has had breast cancer
  • Your risk of getting breast cancer increases as you get older
  • White women have the highest incidence of breast cancer
  • Asian women have the lowest incidence of breast cancer
  • Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, no matter what your race is

Early detection of breast cancer gives a woman the best chance for survival. You need to get to know what is normal for your own breasts. Self-breast exams, mammograms and breast exams by your doctor are essential for early detection! Do you know how to do a self-breast exam? Do you know when to do it?

Let’s go over this important information.

Perform the following steps:
1. Observe your breasts in a mirror, looking for any signs of skin retraction or dimpling.

2. Repeat step 1. after placing your hands on your hips and above your head, respectively.
3. Examine each nipple for deformity or discharge.
4. Examine each breast using the palm of your hand and the tip of your fingers, respectively.  It is easier for many women to do the exam in the shower; the slippery soap and water help you go over each breast smoothly.
5. Examine each breast separately by moving your hand over its surface in circular motion as depicted in the image.
The best time to perform breast self-examination is after menstruation, when the breasts are not swollen or tender. Do this every month!

Ask your nurse or doctor to show you how to do a self-breast exam, if you are unsure if you are doing it correctl Make sure you get a mammogram every year or two after age 40, or more often as recommended by your doctor.

Do you remember what the best chances for early detection include?

  1. Self- breast exams monthly
  2. Clinical exams yearly
  3. Mammograms every 1 to 2 years after age 40 or as directed by your physician

According to the Susan G. Komen foundation, following a healthy lifestyle will help prevent breast cancer. Healthy lifestyle choices include:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Add exercise into your routine
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Limit postmenopausal hormone use
  • Breastfeed, if you can

If you are overdue for a mammogram, go make an appointment today! If you have never done or stopped doing self-breast exams, begin this month!

Take charge of your health and do your best to live a healthy lifestyle!

Be Well,
Nurse Pam

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