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Diligence is key to breast cancer detection

October 19, 2016

Although progress has been made, it is estimated that 40,450 women will die from breast cancer this year, making it the second leading cause of cancer death in women, second only to lung cancer, according to Brandy Hahn, BSN, RN, OCN, nurse navigator at Alliance Community Hospital.

Hahn spoke at Alliance Community Hospital's monthly Community Lecture Luncheon Friday, stressing the importance of early detection and self-examination for breast cancer.

According to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines, which are endorsed by Alliance Community Hospital, women should start annual mammograms beginning at age 40. Women in their early 20s should be educated about the benefits and limitations of breast self-exams and women aged 25-39 should be familiar with clinical breast exams and make them a part of periodic health exams every three years until age 40.

Hahn said there are numerous signs to look for including:

■ Lumps, hard knot or thickening

■ Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening

■ Change in the size or shape

■ Dimpling or puckering of the skin

■ Itchy scaly sore or rash on the nipple

■ Nipple discharge that starts suddenly

■ New pain in one spot that does not go away

■ Nipple retraction or inversion

■ Asymmetry of breasts

In addition to self-examination, clinical examination and mammography, when there is suspicion, more advanced detection possibilities include ultrasound of the breast and MRI.

"While mammography is an effective means of detection, it detects only 85 to 90 percent of all breast cancers," Hahn said. "There is no question mammography saves lives but familiarity with one's own body is an important part of being diligent."

According to Hahn, there are some factors out of the patient's control -- genetics being one of them. However, she says there are a number of controllable factors that include:

■ Don't smoke or stop smoking.

■ Control your weight.

■ Avoid daily alcohol.

■ Avoid radiation.

Upon detection, she said to explore the benefits of tamoxifen and/or prophylactic surgery.

"Breast cancer is estimated to be detected in one of every eight women in the U.S., Hahn said. "At the same time, it is estimated that there are more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the country."

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