Sep. 23, 2008 -- This is the time of year to update your knowledge and think pink.
Breast self exams aren't worthwhile -- or are they? Does eating certain foods prevent breast cancer? The rate of breast cancer is going up -- or is it? Sometimes, what we know seems to change every day. To a certain extent, that's true, as new studies provide more information about the disease.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, though in Wichita, one month isn't enough -- see the accompanying box of activities for evidence. To get in the spirit, here are some questions about breast cancer. Answers come from breast surgeon Patty Tenofsky of Wichita Clinic's Breast Care Center.
How at risk am I?
Breast cancer is rare in women under age 40 and fairly rare under age 50. Over her lifetime, a woman has a 1 in 8 chance of getting breast cancer. The risk may be higher or lower depending on factors such as age and family and reproductive history.
Should women still do breast self exams?
Yes. Mammography has been more successful at lowering breast cancer mortality than self exams have. But mammography can miss cancers, and physician and self exams can help find them. Monthly exams also allow women to be familiar with their breasts and to identify changes.
What are current guidelines for exams?
For most women, a physician exam at least every three years, starting at age 20, and annually beginning at age 40. Annual mammography starting at 40. Monthly self exams starting at 25, done a week after your period.Do I need a digital mammogram?If you can get one. They don't catch more cancers, but, as with digital photography, it's easier to enlarge or change a view. Any mammogram is better than no mammogram.If you find a lump, how quickly should you act?Quickly, but you don't have to panic. "The not knowing is the hardest part," Tenofsky says. The sooner testing can be scheduled, the sooner treatment can be started. If you have an abnormal screening mammogram, a diagnostic mammogram will be done. You may have a biopsy then, too.Do certain foods encourage or discourage breast cancer?Indirectly. Being at a healthy weight seems to offer protection, as does exercise. So a healthy diet, low in fat, is a good idea. Calcium and vitamin D supplementation may help those who haven't gone through menopause. And a low-fat diet has been shown to help reduce the risk of recurrence.Is the rate of breast cancer going up?It did for a while when mammograms became widely used, probably because more cancers were being caught before women died of something else, like heart attacks.
What's new in treatment?Many women have chemotherapy before surgery, to shrink the tumor. Tests are done to identify cancer markers, and treatment is tailored to the individual. New skin-sparing surgery techniques are being used, for better cosmetic outcomes.To find out moreThese are among the Web sites that Patty Tenofsky suggests for more information about breast cancer:breastcancer.orgkomen.org, site of the Susan G. Komen for the Curecancer.org, site of the American Cancer Societycancer.gov, site of the National Cancer Institute-----To see more of The Wichita Eagle, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.kansas.com.Copyright (c) 2008, The Wichita Eagle, Kan.Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.