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A Mammogram. Every Year. Every Woman Age 40+

Sunday, October 22, 2006 | 07:00pm

The Tennessee Department Of Health And American Cancer Society Observe
Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Nashville, October 23, 2006

When October rolls around, it may bring to mind images of ghostly costumes and ghoulish gatherings. That’s not the case for Mary Jane Dewey. She’s haunted by pink for 31 days.

As chair of the Women’s Cancer Resource Committee of the Tennessee Comprehensive Cancer Control Coalition she’s bombarded by images of pink ribbons calling attention to the annual October observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

“The first step in combating any disease is always education and awareness. That’s what the pink ribbons symbolize,” she explained.

For more than 20 years, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month has been observed in October to educate women about early breast cancer detection, diagnosis and treatment. The key message continues to be the importance of early detection through annual mammography screening for women over 40, or earlier for women at increased risk.

“The outlook for persons diagnosed with breast cancer is much brighter than it once was,” said Health Commissioner Kenneth S. Robinson, M.D. “My family has been personally affected by this illness, so I’m glad to celebrate that recovery is not only possible, but likely if cancer is discovered early enough.”

In the United States, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in women, according to the National Cancer Institute. Each year, a small number of men also are diagnosed with or die from breast cancer. Although the breast cancer diagnosis rate has increased, there has been a steady drop in the overall breast cancer death rate since the early 1990s.

“Unfortunately, deaths from breast cancer reflect severe health disparities,” Robinson said. “While African-American women are diagnosed less often than white women, the mortality rate for African-Americans with breast cancer is 48 percent higher than whites.”

More than 3,700 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed annually in the state, according to the Tennessee Department of Health’s Office of Cancer Surveillance in Nashville. There were 933 deaths caused by breast cancer in the year 2005 in Tennessee.

Certain risk factors may place some women at higher risk than others for developing breast cancer including family history of breast cancer, increased age, never having children or having your first child after age 30, having a first menstrual period at an early age and a history of benign breast disease that required biopsies or other breast conditions.

“Mammography screenings are the best chance for detecting breast cancer early,” according to Dewey. “In addition to annual mammograms, women should perform monthly self exams to look for signs of breast cancer,” Dewey said.

Indicators of breast cancer include a lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area, change in the size or shape of the breast, discharge from the nipple and change in the color or feel of the skin of the breast, areola or nipple.

“Women should see a doctor if they notice any of these changes,” Dewey said.

“Screening and early detection are key in a successful fight against breast cancer,” Robinson said. “When breast cancer first develops, there may be no symptoms at all - as was the case with my wife. So women 40 years and older must commit to annual mammograms and monthly self exams in order to detect the early and most treatable stages of breast cancer. When combined with new treatment options, those preventative measures can significantly improve a woman’s chances of survival. It is why my wife is today a breast cancer survivor!”

For a calendar of breast cancer awareness and other cancer control educational programs in Tennessee, visit the Comprehensive Cancer Coalition’s Web site at www2.state.tn.us/health/CCCP/.

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