Think pink, think ahead

  • Published
  • By Halle Thornton
  • 50th Space Wing Public Affairs

About one in eight women in the United States can expect to develop breast cancer during her lifetime.

A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about one in 1000.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and both women and men need to be aware of proper precautions one can take to ensure lowest possible risk.

Bertha Espinosa, 21st Medical Squadron nurse at the Schriever Air Force Base clinic, explained the month is designed to make the community more aware of breast cancer, and preventative measures people can take to ensure they are at the lowest risk possible.

“We (clinic) tell people you need to be aware as you grow older because you are at a higher risk of breast cancer,” she said.

A woman’s risk of breast cancer nearly doubles if she has a first-degree relative (mother, sister or daughter) who has been diagnosed. Less than 15 percent of women who get breast cancer have a family member diagnosed with it.

About 5-10 percent of breast cancers can be linked to gene mutations.

On average, women with a gene mutation have a 55-65 percent lifetime risk of developing breast cancer.

“I always let women know just because nobody in your family has (the gene) doesn’t mean you can’t get (breast cancer),” Espinosa said.

Espinosa suggests women in their 20’s should begin self-breast exams at least once a month, if not every day. Additionally men and women should get tested at the clinic to determine whether or not they carry the mutated gene.

Espinosa added when women reach 50, it is important to get mammograms.

Espinosa has worked at Schriever for seven years, and has seen four cases of breast cancer in 2017 alone.

“We always encourage women to start doing their own exams,” she said. “The ideal time to do it is usually after your period, and it’s good to do it every day because then you will notice changes easier.

“Any changes should be checked immediately. Most of the time things are benign, but we don’t want to let those things go unnoticed.”

Mae Dotson, 21st Medical Squadron registered nurse at the women’s health care clinic at Peterson AFB, explained the goal of breast cancer screening is to find cancer early, before it has a chance to grow, spread or cause problems.

Studies show being screened early on for breast cancer lowers the chance a woman will die of the disease.

Breast cancer screening is a way doctors check for early signs of cancer in women who have no symptoms of breast cancer by performing a mammogram using a special kind of procedure.

The clinic at Schriever offers well-woman exams, which includes a mammogram. In addition to this, the clinic keeps track of women’s records, and notifies them when they are due for an exam.

Although mammograms expose you to some radiation, studies show the number of lives saved by finding cancer early outweighs the little risks that come from radiation exposure.

“We are catching it earlier, so there is less death,” Espinosa said. “In the exam, we always let women know what kind of things they can do to prevent breast cancer, and the rate of breast cancer has dropped because of increased awareness.

“If you’re a woman, that’s one strike. As you age, that’s strike two.”

Dotson added routine screening with mammograms should continue as long as the woman is healthy and expected to live for at least 10 more years.

“The main benefit of screening is it helps doctors find cancer early, when it might be easier to treat,” she said. “This lowers the chances of dying of breast cancer.”

However, if a mammogram is abnormal, don't panic. Nine out of 10 women with an abnormal mammogram turn out not to have breast cancer. Further testing will determine whether or not the abnormality is cancer.

Other tips to reduce risk of breast cancer include healthy eating, exercise, minimal alcohol consumption and not smoking.

“We don’t want to exclude anyone, including men,” Espinosa said. “We encourage everyone to be healthy.”

For more information, or to schedule an exam, call the clinic at 524-CARE.