Understanding risk factors, taking action is key in early detection of breast cancer, doctors say

Steps such as monthly self-exams and annual mammograms can help with detection

October marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which generates awareness of breast cancer and important aspects of symptoms and treatment options.

According to Dr. Morton Kahlenberg, medical director of baptist network for Cancer Care at Baptist Health System, breast cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells grow out of control. The abnormal cells begin inside the milk duct and the milk-producing lobules of the breast. This can occur in one or both breasts, Kahlenberg said.

When cancer cells spread into nearby breast tissue, tumors can form. Kahlenberg said if the tumors are left unchecked, they can spread to nearby lymph nodes or other organs, which is metastasis and can be fatal.

The main risk factor for breast cancer is being born female. Less than 1% of breast cancer occurs in men, according to Kahlenberg. Age can also be a risk factor. Most breast cancers are found in women age 55 and older.

Other risk factors include increasing obesity, harmful use of alcohol and tobacco, reproductive history relative to age, and postmenopausal hormone therapy.

Kahlenberg said it’s important to note that while family history of breast cancer is a risk factor, most women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a known family history of the disease.

Breast cancer prevention starts with understanding the risk factors and taking steps to minimize the risk factors. Monthly self-exams and annual mammograms can also be key in early prevention and treatment.

Dependent upon the type and stage of the cancer, treatment can include:

  • Localized treatment: radiation and/or surgery by a fellowship trained surgical oncologist.
  • Systemic treatment: chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted drug therapy, and/or immunotherapy.

Kahlenberg said if a person is faced with a breast cancer diagnosis, the most important action is for a person to work with their physician and cancer care team on a treatment plan. It is also important to develop a network of support that goes beyond family and friends to include breast cancer survivors.

For more information on breast cancer awareness, visit Baptist Health System’s website.