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Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women in the United States, and the leading single cause of death overall in women between the ages of 40 and 55. Nationwide, there is a new diagnosis every three minutes and a death from breast cancer every 14 minutes. While advances have been made in prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure, early detection still affords the best opportunity for successful treatment. Programs such as Central Georgia Cancer Coalition’s Tata Sisterhood help ensure that all women have access to early detection information and options, even poor and medically underserved women.

 

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a malignant (cancerous) tumor that starts from cells of the breast. The disease occurs most commonly in women, but men can get breast cancer as well. Since men account for only about one percent of total breast cancer cases, the information presented here refers only to breast cancer in women. The breast itself is made up of lobules, ducts, fatty and connective tissue, blood vessels, and lymph vessels. Inside the breasts are glands that produce and release milk after a woman has a baby. The glands that make the milk are called lobules and the tubes that connect them to the nipple are called ducts. Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in Georgia women (as well as in the United States as a whole), and is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths among Georgia women, after lung cancer. A woman in the United States has approximately a one in eight chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.


How is Breast Cancer Detected?

The earlier breast cancer is found, the better the chances that treatment will be effective. The American Cancer Society recommends the following screening guidelines for women without symptoms:

  • Mammogram: A mammogram uses X-ray technology to obtain an image of the inside of the breast. Women age 40 and older should have a mammogram every year, and should continue to do so for as long as they are in good health. While mammograms can miss some cancers, they are a valuable tool for finding breast cancer. Recent medical developments have introduced computer-aided mammography, digital mammography, and 3D mammography; however, traditional mammography remains the gold standard for screening, and is still the only test that has been shown to decrease the likelihood of dying from breast cancer.
  • Clinical breast exam (CBE): Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast examination (CBE) as part of a regular health exam by a health professional every three years. After age 40, women should have a breast exam by a health professional every year. A CBE can provide a complement to mammography- a two pronged approach to gather the most complete information.


What are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer?

The number of breast cancers that are found before symptoms occur has increased largely due to the widespread use of mammography screening. However, some breast cancers are not found because even under ideal conditions, mammography does not detect every cancer, which is why it is important to have clinical breast examinations as well for a more complete screening. The most common sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. A lump that is painless, hard, and has irregular edges is more likely to be cancer. Some rare cancers are tender, soft, and rounded, which is why it's important to have anything unusual checked by a health professional that is trained to perform clinical breast examinations.

Other signs of breast cancer include the following:

  • A swelling of part of the breast
  • Skin irritation or dimpling
  • Nipple pain or the nipple turning inward
  • Redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin
  • A nipple discharge other than breast milk
  • A lump in the underarm area

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