Posts Tagged ‘breast cancer’

Doctor 3

Women’s health just took a leap forward with the passage of California Senate Bill 1538, authored by former state Senator Joe Simitian, which requires that women with dense breast tissue as determined by a mammogram be informed that they have the condition.

Women with dense breast tissue will be made aware of the fact that a tumor may not be seen on the mammogram, that they are at a higher risk for breast cancer, and that they should talk to a doctor about the condition. They will also be informed about other breast screening options.

This law came about as a suggestion to Mr. Simitian from a local Santa Cruz woman, Amy Colton, who has dense breast tissue and developed breast cancer in spite of having had routine mammograms. Kudos to Amy for championing this issue.

About 40 percent of all women have dense breast tissue, and many are unaware of their condition. Well over half of the cases of breast cancer in these women were missed with only routine mammography.

After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the U.S. Although, we usually associate breast cancer in women, it does occasionally occur in men.

The most common symptoms of breast cancer are:

– A breast lump

– Any change in the nipple, especially discharge or bleeding

– A change to the breast skin, such as the appearance of a dimple or pitting of the skin

– A change in size or shape of the breast

It is not clear why some women get breast cancer and some don’t.

It would seem that breast cancer is caused by an interaction between one’s genetic make-up and/or one’s environment. About 10 percent of breast cancer can be linked to inherited defective genes passed down through generations of a family. Blood tests are available to determine who may have these genes.

Known risk factors for breast cancer are:

– Increasing age — it’s more common in women older than 55

– A family or personal history of breast cancer

– Inherited genes

– Beginning your period at a young age or beginning menopause at an older age

– Post-menopausal hormone therapy, using a combination of estrogen and progesterone

– Drinking alcohol

Tests and procedures to detect breast cancer include:

– Breast exam, including self-exams as well as routine exams from a doctor

– Mammograms

– Breast ultrasounds

– Using a needle for a biopsy (removing a specimen of the suspected tissue for examination)

Current treatment guidelines for breast cancer are too large of a topic for this report.

Let me just say that tremendous strides are being made in the successful treatment of this disease.

Fortunately, the majority of breast changes do not turn out to be cancerous. Even if you have had a recent normal mammogram, see your doctor if you find any changes in your breasts, and work with your doctor to have routine breast exams and testing.

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We all need to be aware of and proactive about certain health maintenance issues that can contribute to our well-being and prolong our lives. I would like to describe some of these important health issues for adults to consider.

First of all, I’d like to address the fact that 12,000 women are diagnosed yearly in the U.S. with cervical cancer. A Pap smear to detect this disease can be done during a routine pelvic exam. One should start having the test after becoming sexually active, or by age 18. It needs to be done once a year until a woman has had at least three normal Pap tests in a row. After that, it should be done every three years until age 65, when the chance of cervical cancer drops significantly.

Women also need to examine their breasts to detect breast cancer, which is the second leading cause of death in women, affecting almost 300,000 women annually.

Self breast exams should be done monthly, beginning about age 20. Women should talk to a doctor about how to check their breasts and have a doctor check them every year or two. A good guide for self breast exams can be found online at http://www.breastcancer.org. Go to “Symptoms and diagnosis,” to “Screening and testing,” to “Breast self exam” and finally to “Five steps to breast exam.” It is worth the effort to check it out.

Women should also have mammograms every one or two years beginning at age 40.

Men need to be concerned about prostate cancer. This disease affects as many as 235,000 men a year and is fatal to 28,000. There is an old saying in medicine that if a man lives long enough, he will develop prostate cancer.

Many of us may remember a popular musician from the 70s and 80s named Dan Fogelberg. He recently died of prostate cancer at age 56. He was diagnosed several years before his death and became an avid spokesman for men to have routine prostate exams, especially beginning by age 50.

Yearly PSA blood tests and a rectal exam by a doctor should begin at age 50 and continue until age 70.

Both men and women need to be screened for colon cancer, another leading cause of death. About 150,000 cases are reported per year. This disease is seen rarely before age 40. Colonoscopy has become exceedingly popular as the recommended diagnostic tool for the detection of the colon cancer beginning at age 50, and it should be done every seven to 10 years.

All the above recommendations are general guidelines. If a person has a family history of a particular disease or other known risk factors, consultation with a doctor may provide a more specific plan.

I know the thought of undergoing a pelvic or rectal exam is unappealing to most people, but over the years, I have witnessed many lives saved by those who are willing to follow these precautionary steps by working with their doctor.

The life you save can truly be your own.

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