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Breast Cancer

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“The incidence of breast cancer is decreasing in the United States.”  This was the lead sentence in a recent newspaper article, only one of many that have been written recently.  With the recent release of cancer statistics showing a decrease in breast cancer, the nation-wide fund raiser walk-a-thons for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, an entire issue of Time Magazine given to a discussion of the topic and a diplomatic trip through four Middle East countries by First Lady Laura Bush, breast cancer is the hot topic of the day.

The good news is that breast cancer is on the decline in the United States, so much so that many are wanting to share the prevention, diagnosis and treatment information with those in other parts of the world where breast cancer is steeply on the rise and where diagnosis and treatment are severely delayed or non-existent.

In the meantime, the excellent prevention strategies, diagnostic tools, and treatment interventions are still not as widely known in the United States as some think.  Many who could be helped, many who could survive are not being reached until too late.

While this article cannot begin to cover the topic thoroughly, here is some basic information that can be shared with those who don’t know, are afraid to know, or aren’t sure if this applies to them.  Learn and practice the basics – one, two, three, four.

Basic #1: While there are several web sites that give excellent information, the Susan G.  Komen Breast Cancer Foundation has the absolutely best site at www.komen.org.   Read it to get well-written, easily understood information.

Basic #2: There are many diagnostic tests and varying degrees of severity and recurrence rates of breast cancer types with many types of effective intervention.  These are all discussed at the above web site.  BUT it is best to discuss these with a knowledgeable health care provider.  There are no short cuts and no magic treatments.  Cancer is serious business.  Talk to the experts, not the charlatans.

Basic #3: Many of the major risk factors for breast cancer are beyond the control of the individual: being female, getting older, genetic mutations (BRCA genes) and family history.  These risk factors can be combated only by 1) learning to do a breast self-exam, 2) getting a yearly mammogram if you are over 40, 3) knowing your personal and family history of cancer, 4) talking with a knowledgeable health care provider.  If you have one or more of these four risk factors, just do it.

Basic #4: Many more of the risk factors relate to how long and in what concentration the female body has been exposed to estrogen over the life span.  These estrogen-related factors which increase the risk of breast cancer include:  increased breast density, benign breast disease, early onset of menses, late onset of menopause, not having children, later age at first pregnancy, not breast feeding, drinking alcohol, lack of exercise, being overweight, using post menopausal hormones.

These risks factors are controllable by adopting a life style that will minimize the accumulative exposure to estrogen, which include:

  1. Physically active adolescents have later onset of menses and have an ideal weight that is easier to maintain later in life.  
  2. Eating fewer and healthier fats and being physically active will maintain a healthy weight and will decrease fat stores in the body which produce extra estrogens in the body.  
  3. Drink little or no alcohol.  Alcohol decreases folic acid, a vitamin which assists in proper duplication of genes, avoiding gene mutations.  Alcohol is also high calorie and causes weight gain.  
  4. Avoid postmenopausal combination hormones.  The benefit in increased bone density and decreased colon cancer is small compared to the increased risk for breast cancer; not to mention heart disease, stroke, ovarian cancer and blood clots.

Bottom line: the decrease in the incidence of breast cancer in the United States is because women are aware of what they can do to prevent or detect early this cancer.  Practice these strategies and be one of the survivors, not one of the statistics.

Author

Max Wayne Hammonds was born Aug 3, 1943, in northeastern Indiana, in the county hospital in Wabash. He attended high school and college in his home town of North Manchester and attended Indiana University Medical School in Indianapolis. Following an internship in South Bend, IN and a year of flight medicine in the Air Force, he took a residency in anesthesiology at Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX.