Dr. Charissa Geyer/Optum New Mexico (Photo courtesy of Optum)
- Breast Cancer Awareness Month raises importance of getting screened
Among New Mexico women, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer, and is the second leading cause of death from cancer in the state and in the nation, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.
While female deaths from breast cancer have been on a steady decline in the U.S. since 2001, New Mexico data show the opposite to be true locally in recent years. Breast cancer deaths steadily increased here from 2013-2017, the latest year local data was available from the NMDOH.
Each year in the U.S., about 264,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women and about 2,400 in men, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In addition, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among Hispanic women and Black women die from breast cancer at a higher rate than white women.
The month of October is recognized as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a health observance that reminds us to be aware of the symptoms and risk factors for breast cancer as well as steps to take to improve health and possibly help lower the risk of getting breast cancer or finding it early when it may be easier to treat. Mammograms, X-rays of the breast, are especially important because they may detect breast cancer when there are no apparent symptoms. When symptoms of breast cancer develop they may include:
New lump in breast or underarm (armpit)
- Changes in size or shape of breast
- Thickening or swelling in parts of the breast
- Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area
- Pain in any area of the breast
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood
- Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
- Redness or flakiness in nipple area or breast
Screening recommendations vary between experts, but for women at average risk for breast cancer the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends biennial screening mammography from age 50 to 74. Before age 50, the task force states that the decision to start screening mammography should be an individual one. Women who place a higher value on the potential benefits of screening over potential harm may choose to start biennial screening between 40 to 49 years of age. Women with certain risk factors for breast cancer may need to start screening at an earlier age and may need more frequent screening.
Screenings can find cancer before symptoms begin. Therefore, getting screened is important even for those who feel fine. It is a good idea to talk with a doctor about potential risk factors and various types of screenings, including mammograms.
There are two types of mammograms: a standard two-dimensional image where each breast is compressed from two different angles (top to bottom and side to side), and a three-dimensional image, where the machine takes several low-dose X-rays, moving in an arc direction around the breast. While 3-D mammograms are increasing in popularity, it may not be available in all areas.
The American Cancer Society provides several steps to prepare for a mammogram, such as avoiding deodorants, antiperspirants, powders, lotions, creams and perfumes under the arm or breasts on exam day. Some of these products can show up as white spots on the X-rays.
Find a Health Center is a helpful tool for finding local mammography centers. Check to see that the imaging facility you choose is certified and accepts your insurance. Many organizations offer free mammograms and breast screenings.
The health and medical professionals at Optum New Mexico advise talking with your doctor to discuss health history, any symptoms you may be experiencing, or preventive screenings. Let Breast Cancer Awareness Month be a reminder to following the suggestions here for health and wellbeing.