October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among United States women, no matter your race or ethnicity. Many things affect a person’s chance of getting breast cancer, these are called risk factors. Some risk factors cannot be controlled and include being a woman, getting older, having dense breasts, having radiation to the chest area early in life, family history and genetics. However, the good news is that a healthy lifestyle can help to prevent cancer. It is important to see your health care provider for regular check-ups, eat healthy foods, get exercise, maintain a healthy weight, limit alcohol use and do not smoke.
Most women (about 8 out of 10) who get breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease. However, women who have close blood relatives like a mother or sister who have had breast cancer are at a higher risk themselves. 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, hard knot, or thickening in the breast or underarm area
- new pain in one spot that does not go away
- nipple discharge that starts suddenly
- 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.
Routine screenings are an important step to help find breast cancer early. With early detection breast cancer is usually easier to treat and has better outcomes. A mammogram is the best test to detect breast cancer early.
Free mammograms are available through the Onondaga County Cancer Services Program (CSP) for women between the ages of 40 and 64 who do not have health insurance or who experience other barriers to completing their screenings, along with any necessary follow-up. Services are available at many healthcare provider sites throughout the city of Syracuse and Onondaga County. Call 315-435-3653 or visit the CSP website at ongov.net/health/cancerscreening.html to register for your free mammogram.
Whether you have health insurance or not, having a mammogram may save your life. Remember, if you are a woman between the ages of 40 and 64 and do NOT have health insurance, call 315-435-3653 to see if you qualify for a free mammogram. Take care of yourself this October and schedule your mammogram today!