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October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Thanks to the successful efforts of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and its hundreds of media, non-profit and corporate partners, nearly everyone is aware that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  But what are you going to DO with that awareness?  I am still amazed by how many women I meet over age 35 who have never had a mammogram and even more amazed by the number of women I meet who haven't even had a clinical breast exam in over 3 years.  Being aware of breast cancer is not enough:  it is time to act upon that awareness.

So what do you need to do for optimum breast health?  In general, women over age 18 should perform a monthly breast self exam, ideally, 5 to 10 days after the last day of their menstrual period.  Most women have some benign lumps; getting used to the normal terrain of your breasts will help you identify any abnormalities later on.  A complete breast self-exam includes applying gentle pressure to the nipples to evaluate any nipple discharge.  While this is fairly common, any abnormalities should be discussed with your physician. 

All women should have a baseline mammogram at age 35.  Why?  So that in the future, you have your own personal version of a "normal" mammogram to serve as a basis for comparison for any possible changes.  While your physician's recommendations may vary regarding when you need to repeat your mammogram based upon your physical exam, personal and family medical history, most physicians recommend a second mammogram at age 40, followed by repeat mammograms every two years until age 50, after which annual mammograms are recommended. 

Are there any other interventions you can practice in order to reduce your risk of breast cancer?  The most supported recommendation is not to smoke:  don't start and if you already do, then stop.  Following a low-fat diet has been suggested to reduce the risk of breast cancer as has maintaining a normal weight.  In menopausal women, taking an estrogen plus progesterone combination regimen of hormone therapy was shown to slightly increase the risk of invasive breast cancer after 5 years.   The good news for menopausal women is that regular aerobic exercise has recently been shown to potentially reduce your risk of breast cancer.

Created: 10/1/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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