Knowing what to look for and when to look key with breast cancer
October 14, 2012
American Cancer Society statistics show that two out of three invasive breast cancers occur in women ages 55 and older. At 47 years old, Regina Serna knew she was close, but she also knew she was not yet in that prime danger zone. Turns out, her breast cancer didn't wait for the calendar.
In some ways, her experience fit the narrative of breast cancer and in some ways it didn't.
She survived her fight, but now the Front Range advocate is the chairwoman for the Colorado Cancer Coalition's breast cancer task force, and she said that her two years in that position have taught her there's nothing normal and nothing average about anyone's breast cancer experience.
For her, that means making women even in their teenage years aware that breast cancer is possible.
"The doctors, not all doctors but some, will say, ‘Oh, it's not breast cancer,’" she said. "They'll say, 'You're too young.' I was 47. I know several women who were 18 or 24 and pregnant who got breast cancer. There are a lot of young women who get it."
Currently, about 1 in 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in her life. The rate in Colorado is slightly higher, at 1 in 7 women.
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The American Cancer Society said about 1 in 8 of all invasive breast cancer cases occur in women younger than 45.
Awareness can be lifesaving, and awareness means a lot more than simply knowing breast cancer exists. It means being aware of one's body to notice any changes, and then knowing enough to see a doctor about them.
"Some of the indicators can be a lump," Serna said. "Women should check under their arms because often times breast cancer will start under the arm on the side of the breast tissue. They should notice if their nipples are inverted or change colors, or if there is any fluid or discharge. That can be an indicator. Sometimes the lumps will look dark, like a bruise. Basically, take notice of any type of change, anything that was not there before."
Other indicators, according to the American Cancer Society, include skin irritation or dimpling; breast or nipple pain; swelling of all or part of a breast; or redness, scaliness or thickening of the nipple of skin.
Medical professionals say awareness of breast cancer begins in the home, with self-examinations, but Steamboat Springs OB/GYN Dr. Mary Bowman recommends that most women begin mammogram screenings at age 40. Women that are at high risk, meanwhile, should seek out a doctor's advice earlier to help plot a detection course.
"Family history can make someone high risk. Obesity puts someone at high risk. Smoking in general is not a good idea," Bowman said, running down common high-risk indicators.
In addition to the post-40 mammograms, the American Cancer Society recommends women in their 20s and 30s have clinical breast exams every three years and that women begin self-examining in their 20s.
Serna said her fight with breast cancer and her ensuing work with the Colorado Cancer Coalition simply have opened her eyes. Some of the stories are sad. And some aren't, but she said that they're all different and that the best way to combat any problems now or in the future is with awareness.
"There are so many layers to breast cancer," she said. "There are still thousands of women dying every year because of this disease. There are so many issues when it comes to breast cancer. It's really been eye-opening."
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com
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