Early Detection, Advanced Treatment Still Best Defenses against Breast Cancer

By: Laura Gros, RN, CBCN, Patient Care Coordinator, Thibodaux Regional Cancer Institute

The recent death of singer-actress Olivia Newton-John after a 30-year battle with breast cancer reminds us that after more than four decades of intense focus on the disease and billions of dollars in research, breast cancer continues to threaten women's lives.

Breast cancer by the numbers

Breast cancer remains second only to skin cancer as the most common cancer in American women. Other cautionary numbers include:

  • Second to lung cancer as leading cause of cancer death in women
  • One-in-eight chance for U.S. women to develop breast cancer
  • 13% average risk for a woman having breast cancer at some point in her life
  • 40% drop in mortality rates since 1989
  • 3.8 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S.

Detecting the disease early and getting advanced cancer treatment continue to be the best defenses to prevent deaths from breast cancer. Regular screening mammograms help find breast cancer at an early stage, when treatment is most successful.

Guidelines for breast cancer screenings

The following guidelines are recommended to help women take charge of breast health:

  • Be familiar with how breasts normally look and feel and immediately report any changes to a healthcare provider;
  • Begin screening mammograms between ages 40 and 44;
  • Continue annual mammograms from ages 45 to 54;
  • At age 55, women of average risk continue annual or biennial mammograms;
  • Continue screenings as long as a woman is in good health and expects to live another 10 years or more.

Frequently Asked Questions about Breast Cancer

Does a positive screening test mean I have breast cancer? A screening test alone cannot diagnose cancer. Additional tests, such as biopsies, are done to determine if the patient has cancer.

What is considered high risk? The two biggest risks for breast cancer are being born female and getting older. Women are at higher risk if:

  • There is a family history in a first-generation relative (mother, sister, daughter)
  • They have an inherited gene mutation
  • They previously had breast cancer
  • They underwent radiation to the chest between ages 10 to 30

How can I control my risks? While you can’t change family history or aging, you can control certain lifestyle behaviors including:

  • Limit alcohol consumption; the American Cancer Society recommends that women consume no more than one drink a day
  • Watch your weight; being overweight or obese after menopause when the ovaries stop making estrogen increases risk
  • Stay active as regular physical activity is shown to reduce breast cancer risk, especially in post-menopausal women

Resources for Information

To learn more about breast cancer symptoms, risks, treatments, and guidelines, visit the American Cancer Society website at cancer.org or contact Thibodaux Regional Cancer Institute at 985.493.4008.