Breast Cancer: What you need to Know


Breast cancer is cancer in the breast. The disease occurs mostly in women, but some men have also been diagnosed with breast cancer. Every year, about 178,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and about 40,363 of these women in the United States will die. Today, there are over 2 million women living who have been treated for breast cancer.


Statistics from the Minnesota Department of Health indicate the number of newly diagnosed breast cancer cases in 2004 in Minnesota were 3,280 women and 33 men. The number of deaths for that year included 655 females and 1 male.  Over 80% of females 40 and older received a mammogram in 2004. 


We do not know the causes of breast cancer but we do know what increases a person’s chances of getting breast cancer. These risk factors include being female, getting older, having someone in the family diagnosed with breast cancer, and race. 


While white women have more cancer of the breast, Asian and African women are more likely to die from the disease due to less access to preventative health services and other factors. 


The earlier breast cancer is found, the more successful the treatment will be. 


The American Cancer Society recommends that women 30 and older should perform breast self-examinations monthly. They also recommend that women between the ages of 20 and 39 should have a physical examination of the breast every 3 years performed by a health care professional. Finally, women over 40 should have this exam every year and should also have a mammogram (x-ray of the breast) annually.


Breast exams at home are very important for detecting or feeling your breasts for lumps and pain. The most common sign of breast cancer is a new lump. Other signs of breast cancer include the following: swelling of the breast, skin irritation, nipple discharge, redness, and a lump in the underarm/armpit areas. 


If you have any of these symptoms, please contact a medical doctor immediately. The doctor may suggest a mammogram to verify whether further testing is necessary. If a mammogram looks like there are cancerous cells, the doctor may recommend a biopsy – a procedure where a long, thin needle is inserted into your breast and a sample of tissue deep in the breast is taken for evaluation. All of these procedures might hurt a little, but they are very important in detecting breast cancer.


To schedule an appointment for your yearly physical where your doctor checks to see if you are healthy or if you would like to schedule an appointment for your mammogram, you can call your clinic. If you do not have health insurance, there are programs out there that will help cover the cost for this very important appointment.


For more information about these free programs or questions about breast and cervical cancer screening, call the MDH Sage Program at               651-556-0687        or visit the National Cancer Institute website.


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