October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In New York State, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, and is the second leading cause of cancer death. One in eight women will get breast cancer at some point in their lifetime.
Many things affect a person’s chance of getting breast cancer, these are called risk factors. Some risk factors cannot be controlled, including getting older, having dense breasts, radiation to the chest area early in life, and family history/genetics. Other risk factors can be controlled. These risk factors include being overweight, not being physically active, eating unhealthy food, drinking alcohol, and smoking cigarettes.
Additional risk factors that increase your chance of breast cancer include never giving birth, never breastfeeding, or giving birth to a first child at a later age. The good news is you can lower your breast cancer risk by making healthy lifestyle choices. Remember, it is essential to see your health care provider for regular check-ups.
Do not wait to get your mammogram. Regular breast cancer screening is the key to finding breast cancer early when treatment may work best. The Onondaga County Cancer Services Program (CSP) encourages anyone who has put off their mammogram or is due for a mammogram, to call their health care provider. If you do not have health insurance, the CSP may be able to help!
Most women (about 8 out of 10) who get breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease. However, women with close blood relatives like a mother or sister who have had breast cancer are at higher risk. About 5-10% of breast cancers are thought to be hereditary, meaning they result directly from gene defects passed on from a parent. The most common cause of hereditary breast cancer is inherited defective BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
Breast cancer may not cause any symptoms in its early stages. If symptoms do appear, they may include the following:
- a lump, thickening, or swelling in a part of the breast or underarm area
- new pain in one spot that does not go away
- nipple discharge other than breastmilk, including blood
- pulling in of the nipple or other parts of the breast
- dimpling or puckering of the breast skin
- any change in the size or shape of the breast
- swelling, warmth, redness, or darkening of the breast skin
- itchy, scaly sore, or rash on the nipple or other parts of the breast
The Cancer Services Program (CSP) offers free breast cancer screenings to women ages 40 and over who do not have health insurance, or who experience other barriers to completing their screenings. If any follow-up tests are needed, the CSP will provide those tests too. If breast cancer is found, CSP will help enroll people who qualify in the NYS Medicaid Cancer Treatment Program for full Medicaid coverage during treatment. Services are available at many healthcare provider sites throughout the city of Syracuse and Onondaga County.
Whether you have health insurance or not, having a mammogram may save your life. If you are a woman age 40 and older and do NOT have health insurance, call 315-435-3653 or visit www.ongov.net/health/cancerscreening.html to see if you qualify for a free mammogram.