Breast Cancer Resources and Facts from National Cancer Institute

'Understanding Breast Changes: A Health Guide for Women' is a new booklet addressing breast cancer from the National Cancer Institute. Photo courtesy of

by Reza Corinne Clifton

PROVIDENCE, RI – Women, girls AND men take note: it is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Before October comes to an end, here at Urban Health Watch we wanted to join in to provide you with additional resources and facts. We are also presenting it because the topic applies to urban communities.

According to a September 2008 “Snapshot on Breast Cancer Health” organized by the National Cancer Institute (, while the incidence of breast cancer is highest in whites, “it is African Americans that have higher mortality rates than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States.” Their research also showed that “the gap in mortality between African Americans and whites is wider now than it was in the early 1990s.”

The following information also comes from the National Cancer Institute, which is part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). They also just released a new booklet online called “Understanding Breast Changes: A Health Guide for Women.” Please note, however: your primary medical providers remain your best source for information, diagnostics, and treatment; nothing published here is intended to replace that individual or network.


What are breast changes?

Many breast changes are changes in how your breast or nipple looks or feels. You may notice a lump or firmness in your breast or under your arm. Or perhaps the size or shape of your breast has changed. Your nipple may be pointing or facing inward (inverted) or feeling tender. The skin on your breast, areola, or nipple may be scaly, red, or swollen. You may have nipple discharge, which is an abnormal fluid coming from the nipple.

If you have these or other breast changes, talk with your health care provider to get these changes checked as soon as possible.

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What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast.

Mammograms can be used to check for breast cancer in women who have no signs or symptoms of the disease. This type of mammogram is called a screening mammogram.
Screening mammograms usually involve two x-rays of each breast. They make it possible to detect tumors that cannot be felt. Screening mammograms can also find microcalcifications (tiny deposits of calcium) that sometimes indicate the presence of breast cancer.

Mammograms can also be used to check for breast cancer after a lump or other sign or symptom of breast cancer has been found. This type of mammogram is called a diagnostic mammogram. Signs of breast cancer may include pain, skin thickening, nipple discharge, or a change in breast size or shape. A diagnostic mammogram also may be used to evaluate changes found during a screening mammogram, or to view breast tissue when it is difficult to obtain a screening mammogram because of special circumstances, such as the presence of breast implants.

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Definition of breast cancer:
Cancer that forms in tissues of the breast, usually the ducts (tubes that carry milk to the nipple) and lobules (glands that make milk). It occurs in both men and women, although male breast cancer is rare.

Estimated new cases and deaths from breast cancer in the United States in 2009:
– New cases: 192,370 (female); 1,910 (male)
– Deaths: 40,170 (female); 440 (male)

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The following risk factors may increase the risk of breast cancer:

Estrogen (endogenous)
Endogenous estrogen is a hormone made by the body. It helps the body develop and maintain female sex characteristics. Being exposed to estrogen over a long time may increase the risk of breast cancer. A woman’s exposure to estrogen is increased in the following ways: 1) Early menstruation or Late menopause because the more years a woman menstruates, the longer her breast tissue is exposed to estrogen; 2) Late pregnancy (after age 35) or never being pregnant because estrogen levels are lower during pregnancy.

Hormone replacement therapy/Hormone therapy
Hormones that are made outside the body, in a laboratory, are called exogenous hormones. Estrogen, progestin, or both may be given to replace the estrogen no longer produced by the ovaries in postmenopausal women or women who have had their ovaries removed. This is called hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or hormone therapy (HT). When the HRT/HT selected is the one that combines estrogen with progesterone or progestin, there is an increased risk of developing breast cancer.

Exposure to Radiation
Radiation therapy to the chest for the treatment of cancers increases the risk of breast cancer, starting 10 years after treatment and lasting for a lifetime. The risk of developing breast cancer depends on the dose of radiation and the age at which it is given. The risk is highest if radiation treatment was used during puberty. For example, radiation therapy used to treat Hodgkin disease by age 16, especially radiation to the chest and neck, increases the risk of breast cancer.

Obesity increases the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women who have not used hormone replacement therapy.

Drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer. The level of risk rises as the amount of alcohol consumed rises.

Inherited Risk
Women who have inherited certain changes in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have a higher risk of breast cancer, and the breast cancer may develop at a younger age.

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Follow-up Care After Cancer Treatment

It is natural for anyone who has completed cancer treatment to be concerned about what the future holds. Many people are concerned about the way they look and feel, and about what they can do to keep the cancer from recurring (coming back). They want to know which doctor will follow them, how often to see the doctor for follow-up appointments, and what tests they should have. Understanding what to expect after cancer treatment can help patients and their loved ones plan for follow-up care, make lifestyle changes, and make important health-related decisions.

1. What is follow-up cancer care, and why is it important?
Follow-up cancer care involves regular medical checkups that include a review of a patient’s medical history and a physical exam. Follow-up care may include imaging procedures (methods of producing pictures of areas inside the body), endoscopy (the use of a thin, lighted tube to examine the inside of the body), blood work, and other lab tests.

Follow-up care is important because it helps to identify changes in health. The purpose of follow-up care is to check for recurrence (the return of cancer in the primary site) or metastasis (the spread of cancer to another part of the body). Follow-up care visits are also important to help in the prevention or early detection of other types of cancer, address ongoing problems due to cancer or its treatment, and check for physical and psychosocial effects that may develop months to years after treatment ends. All cancer survivors should have follow-up care.

2. What should patients tell their doctor during follow-up visits?
During each visit, patients should tell their doctor about:

– Any symptoms that they think may be a sign that their cancer has returned.

– Any pain that bothers them.

– Any physical problems that interfere with daily life or are bothersome, such as fatigue; difficulty with bladder, bowel, or sexual function; difficulty concentrating; memory changes; trouble sleeping; and weight gain or loss.

– Any medicines, vitamins, or herbs they are taking and any other treatments they are using.

– Any emotional problems they are experiencing, such as anxiety or depression.

– Any changes in their family medical history, including any new cancers.

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2 responses to “Breast Cancer Resources and Facts from National Cancer Institute

  1. Pingback: National Breast Cancer Awareness Month Comes to a Close « Urban Health Watch

  2. Pingback: » Blog Archive » Take 5 w. Reza Rites - October 28, 2009

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