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Raising breast cancer awareness

The month of October arrived quickly for all of us. We begin to feel the autumn winds and see the changing of the leaves -- and we start to look for our windbreakers before heading out the door.

Certainly, the month of October brings with it many gifts. Along with these stunning environmental changes the month of October also brings National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

In America alone, the 2009 numbers reveal a staggering 211,731 women diagnosed and more than 40,000 deaths due to breast cancer.

As many of us know, breast cancer can be a very unforgiving disease. While considering these daunting numbers, it's no wonder continued concern along with persistent research is undoubtedly warranted.

The breast is made up of fatty tissue, fibrous tissue, as well as connective tissue, glands and ducts. Breasts tend to change with age, certain medications, weight gain or loss, pregnancy and during the normal menstrual cycle. Asymmetry is common with breasts, and this appearance also can change throughout a person's lifetime. It is reasonable to say there is no such thing as a "typical" breast. What may be "normal" for one person may be quite alarming to another.

As stated above, the breast can change for many different reasons. One of those possible changes can be lumps. There are several medical conditions that can cause breasts lumps and not all are due to cancer. One such condition is fibrocystic breasts. Breast cysts are essentially fluid-filled pouches that can occasionally form within the breasts. This noncancerous condition can cause the breasts to feel lumpy, tender and possibly sore. If you have noticed any of these changes be sure to make an appointment and speak with your physician or health care provider.

There are many different types of breast cancer. The first is ductal carcinoma. This is the most common type of cancer involving the breast. Within the type of ductal carcinoma there is ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). This is a type of breast cancer where the cancerous cells are found in the lining of the milk ducts.

The second subtype of ductal carcinoma is invasive ductal carcinoma. The cancerous cells are found to have traversed throughout other parts of the breast as well as possibly throughout the body.

The next type of breast cancer is lobular carcinoma. The cancerous cells are found within the milk ducts (or lobules) of the breast. The lobules are responsible for milk production within the breast. Within this type of cancer is again two subtypes. First, lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) is where the cancer cells are found within the breast lobules only.

The second subtype in this class is invasive lobular carcinoma. The cancer cells are found within the lobules; however, they are also found to have spread throughout the breast tissue and possibly to other portions of the body.

These are only a very few examples of common breast cancers; there are many others that I have not listed here. At any time if you notice these or any changes of the breast for that matter do not hesitate to contact your physician. Please, consider speaking with him or her about specific questions or concerns about breast cancer types and their treatment.

In men, breast cancer is relatively uncommon but can occur. Typically, breast cancer in men is seen in men aged 60 to 70 years of age. However, breast cancer can occur at any age in men as in women. For men, the same rule applies: if you happen to note breast changes be sure to tell your doctor your concerns. It's always better to err on the side of caution and disclose any concerns during your time with your physician.

As with most cancers there are risk factors. These include (but not limited to): long-term use of hormone-replacement therapy, advanced age, personal history of breast cancer, positive family history of breast cancer (father, mother, brother, sister, daughter, son), beginning menopause at a later age, being younger when the first menstrual cycle occurred, treatment with radiation to the breast or chest areas, and others. Speak with your doctor to see if there are any additional concerns he or she may have about possible breast cancer risk factors. Speak with your health care provider about appropriate screening practices and possible interventions to improve your current risk factors.

As with so many other diseases, prevention is paramount. First, know your medical family history. Pertinent family history is very important to recognize and can be quite useful with ongoing surveillance. The family history of a patient can help guide health care practitioners when it comes to identifying appropriate and adequate ongoing surveillance tailored to meet your specific needs. Next, get regular exams. If a person is getting regular breast exams, the probability of catching breast cancer early greatly improves.

Next, consider a medication review with your doctor. If there are medications that may increase the risk for breast cancer address these concerns with your health care provider.

One such medication would be hormone replacement therapy or HRT. Speak with your doctor about the benefits, risks, as well as your family history regarding breast cancer. You and your doctor can decide on proper medication adjustments and a breast cancer surveillance plan that you're both comfortable with.

If you, a friend or family member has questions or concerns regarding breast cancer surveillance options or treatment possibilities, please know you are not alone. Contact your physician or health care provider and map out a breast cancer surveillance plan you are both comfortable with. Being proactive with proper surveillance initiatives can greatly assist with early intervention if breast cancer does occur.

Keep an open line of communication with your physician or health care provider regarding screening exams and be proactive when it comes to your health. To the reader, I wish a magnificent month of October and continued good health.

As with all medical conditions, always feel free to contact your physician or health care provider with any questions or concerns.

Dr. Charles Weintz is the author of "Healthy Headlines." He is a family physician and medical director at Stanton County Family Practice.