Early detection key to fighting breast cancer

Meigs Health Matters

By Courtney C. Midkiff - For the Times-Sentinel

October is nationally recognized as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

American Cancer Society estimates for breast cancer in the United States for 2016 are about 246,660 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women; about 61,000 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be diagnosed (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer); and about 40,450 women will die from breast cancer.

In Meigs County, breast cancer was one of several leading sites/types of cancer incidence between 2008-2012. It was also one of the leading sites/types of cancer mortality during this period of time.

According to the Meigs County Community Health Assessment Overview Report compiled by Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs (on behalf of the Meigs County Health Department), “Though the rates of several types of cancer (i.e. breast cancer ) are lower in Meigs County than state and national rates, the mortality rate is higher in Meigs County. … This underscores the community’s limited access to preventative care and treatment services and suggests lower cancer screening rates and possible reluctance to change necessary health behaviors.”

According to the ACS, breast cancer starts when cells in the breast begin to grow out of control. These cells usually form a tumor that can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump. The tumor is malignant (cancerous) if the cells can grow into (invade) surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to distant areas of the body. Breast cancer occurs almost entirely in women, but men can get it, too.

It’s also important to understand that most breast lumps are not cancer, they are benign. Benign breast tumors are abnormal growths, but they do not spread outside of the breast and they are not life-threatening. But some benign breast lumps can increase a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer. Any breast lump or change needs to be checked by a health care provider to determine whether it is benign or cancer, and whether it might impact your future cancer risk.

Possible risk factors for breast cancer include: being female; getting older; having certain inherited genes; having a family or personal history of breast cancer; being Caucasian or African American; having dense breast tissue; having certain benign breast conditions; starting menstruation before age 12; going through menopause after 55; having chest radiation; being exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES); being overweight or obese; having children later in life or not having children; using birth control; poor lifestyle choices/behaviors such as drinking alcohol, smoking, lack of physical activity and poor diet.

The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. A painless, hard mass that has irregular edges is more likely to be cancerous, but breast cancers can be tender, soft or rounded. They can even be painful. For this reason, it is important to have any new breast mass or lump or breast change checked by a health care professional experienced in diagnosing breast diseases.

Other possible symptoms of breast cancer include: swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no distinct lump is felt); skin irritation or dimpling; breast or nipple pain; nipple retraction (turning inward); redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin; nipple discharge (other than breast milk).

Breast cancer can be found early. Tests and exams used to find a disease, like cancer, in people who do not have any symptoms are called screening tests. Screening exams, such as mammograms, find cancers before they start to cause symptoms. This is called early detection. Cancers that are found early — when they’re small and haven’t spread — are easier to treat and have better outcomes.

Why is it important to find breast cancer early? The earlier breast cancer is found, the better the chances that treatment will work. Breast cancers that are found because they can be felt tend to be larger and are more likely to have already spread outside the breast. But screening exams can often find breast cancers when they are small and still confined to the breast. The size of a breast cancer and how far it has spread are some of the most important factors in predicting the outlook (prognosis) of a woman with this disease.

At this time, there are more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States. This includes women still being treated and those who have completed treatment. Most doctors feel early detection tests for breast cancer save thousands of lives each year. Many more lives probably could be saved if even more women and their health care providers took advantage of these tests.

The MCHD has hosted the Ohio State mobile mammography unit since the early 1990s, screening hundreds of Meigs County ladies for breast cancer. The MCHD collaborates with the ACS, Meigs County Cancer Initiative, Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine (mobile health clinic) and the Southeastern Ohio Breast and Cervical Cancer Project to promote early detection of breast cancer and to assist those diagnosed with the disease.

To make an appointment or for more information, contact me at 740-992-6626 or join me at a MCCI Komen-funded Pink with Purpose Friend to Friend session at 1 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Mulberry Community Center, 260 Mulberry Ave. in Pomeroy.

Meigs Health Matters

By Courtney C. Midkiff

For the Times-Sentinel

Courtney Midkiff is the administrator for the Meigs County Health Department.

Courtney Midkiff is the administrator for the Meigs County Health Department.