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Do You Know Your Body

Breast cancer is treatable and highly curable if detected early and treated appropriately, but awareness involves more than just regular screenings—it also means being aware of your body and your potential risk factors.

What are the screening guidelines for breast cancer?
The American Cancer Society recommends that breast cancer mammogram screenings start at age 40 and continue annually as long as a woman is in good health. Additionally, adult women of all ages are encouraged to perform a breast self-exam every month. While this column focuses on women, 2,240 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed nationally in men in 2013, according to the ACS.

How important are breast cancer screenings?
Regular breast cancer screenings are very important. With screening, we are uncovering more of the small, innocuous breast tumors. However, while this makes us feel good about early detection, it may not have an impact on the natural history of more aggressive tumors that tend to metastasize and be more deadly. This controversy is fueled by recent studies showing that increased detection of early cancer through mammography has not led to a proportional improvement in mortality.

In addition to mammography screening, oncologists encourage women to be aware of their breasts and breast health. Women should know their own risks for the disease, and family history is an important factor. Breast awareness means being alert to lumps, redness, nipple or skin changes, discharge, and other unusual symptoms.

Are certain types of breast cancers more common in older women?
Older women tend to have more slow-growing forms of breast cancer and more hormonal-dependent breast cancers. Hormonal therapies are frequently effective in treatment and are prescribed for most patients with all disease stages.

Does breast cancer treatment differ in older patients?
Generally, treatment of breast cancer is independent of age; it is driven more by the characteristics of the disease, such as stage, biomarker features, and risk of relapse. Co-morbid conditions—significant heart disease, for example—are more important than age itself. These may limit more aggressive treatment options for some patients. However, the functional status and overall health of the patient is what we consider, not age.

To read more about breast cancer, go online to www.ukhealthcare.uky.edu/markey and search “breast cancer,” or www.cancer.org/cancer/index and use the “Select Cancer Type” box.

DR. SULEIMAN MASSARWEH is a breast oncologist at the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center.

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