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Breast cancer awareness empowering women, saving lives
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Since 1985, October has been Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Organizers hope by increasing awareness, more women will become knowledgeable about breast cancer, as well as prevention and risk factors, and be motivated to get screenings. Early detection saves lives.
Cancer starts when cells begin to grow out of control. Early detection improves chances of surviving. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is all about saving lives.

Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer in women in the United States. Thanks to increasing awareness and continuing research, more women are surviving this deadly disease than ever before.

Death rates from breast cancer declined 35 percent from 1990-2011. Still, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 40,000 women and 400 men in the U.S. die each year from the disease.

Since 1985, October has been Breast Cancer Awareness Month – a time to learn more about the disease and raise funds for research. It is also a time to celebrate survivors.

Organizers hope by increasing awareness, more women will become knowledgeable about breast cancer, as well as prevention and risk factors, and be motivated to get screenings. Early detection saves lives.

The basics

Each year, about 220,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women and about 2,000 in men. The type varies depending on which cells in the breast grow out of control and where. Most cancers begin in the ducts – the tubes that carry the milk to the nipple – or lobules, which are the glands that produce milk.

Breast cancer can get into the blood or lymph system and spread to other parts of the body. The more lymph nodes with cancer cells, the more likely it is that the cancer may be found in other organs as well.

It is important to find the cancer before it spreads to other parts of the body, which doctors will describe as metastasized.

Symptoms and early detection

Women should be very familiar with their breasts – how they look and how they feel. The most common symptom is a lump, but not all lumps are cancerous. Still, women should visit their doctor as soon as possible to know for sure.

Other symptoms include swelling, skin irritation or dimpling, pain, nipple retraction, redness or thickening of the nipple or skin on the breast, and discharge of anything from the nipple except breast milk. If breast cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, a lump or swelling may be found under the arm or around the collarbone.

Breast self-exams don’t take the place of having a mammogram, which can detect problems before symptoms occur. Health experts recommend that women between the ages of 40-44 consider having an annual mammogram. Women ages 45-54 should get one every year, and women 55 and older should have a mammogram every other year.

Low income, uninsured women in Pinellas who are between the ages of 50-64 can apply to receive free breast cancer screenings and mammograms through the Health Department. Call 727-824-6917.

Other screenings include ultrasounds, MRI scans, experimental breast imaging and biopsies. Women who have a higher risk due to personal or family history should talk to their doctor for screening recommendations.

Risk factors and prevention

The risk of breast cancer increases with age. The average age when a woman is diagnosed is 61. Men are usually diagnosed between ages 60 and 70. Personal and family history or changes in genes increase the risk of developing the disease, as do a host of other factors.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month aims at empowering women with knowledge about how to reduce their risk. Women can’t stop the aging process or change inherited genes, but they can take a number of positive steps aimed at prevention.

For example, drinking alcohol has been linked to breast cancer. The American Cancer Society says risk increases depending on how much alcohol one might drink. A comparison of non-drinkers with women who drink one alcoholic beverage a day shows a very small increase in risk.

But women who drink two-five drinks a day have about 1 1/2 times the risk. It is recommended that women have no more than one drink a day. A drink is defined as 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits.

Physical activity is another lifestyle factor involved in increased risk of breast cancer. According to the ACS, exercise reduces risk. One study showed 1 1/4-2 1/2 hours of brisk walking a week would reduce risk by 18 percent. Walking 10 hours a week reduced risk even more. The recommendation is to get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week. Other recommended activities include weight lifting, stretching or yoga.

Maintaining a healthy weight also plays a part in elevated risk, especially after menopause. And women who gained weight as an adult have a greater risk compared to women who have been overweight since childhood. Having excess weight around the waist area increases risk compared to having the same amount of fat in the hips and thighs. Overweight women oftentimes have higher blood insulin levels, another factor linked to breast cancer.

Women who never had a child and women who had their first child after age 30 have a slightly higher risk. Women who have had many pregnancies and women who became pregnant at an early age have a reduced risk.

Some studies point to a slightly lower risk for women who breastfeed for at least 1 1/2 to 2 years; however, not enough information is available to say for sure.

Women who have taken birth control pills have a slightly higher risk of getting breast cancer compared to women who never used them. For women who stop taking the pill, the risk goes down to normal after time, and women who have stopped for 10 years have no increased risk.

Some studies show taking the birth control shot (Depo-Provera) increases risk, which goes away five years after women stop taking the 90-day injections. Some evidence exists of an increased risk from using a hormone-releasing IUD.

Use of a combined hormone therapy after menopause can boost the chances of getting breast cancer and it may increase chances of being diagnosed when cancer is at a more advanced stage. Risk levels return to normal five years after stopping treatment. Some increased risk also is evident with estrogen therapy alone. Women are urged to talk to their doctor about the benefits and risks.

Awareness events and fundraisers

The ACS sponsors Making Strides Against Breast Cancer each October. The 3-5-mile walk is designed to raise awareness and funds for continued research. Raymond James is presenting an event Saturday, Oct. 14, at Vinoy Park, 701 Bayshore Drive NE, St. Petersburg. Registration begins at 8 a.m. The walk begins at 9. For more information, email Cindi Crisci at PinellasFLStrides@cancer.org or call 727-546-9822.

The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure is Saturday, Oct. 7, at Albert Whitted Park, 480 Bayshore Drive SE, St. Petersburg. Participants can pick up their packets at noon. The opening ceremony starts at 5:30 p.m.

Kids for the Cure race starts at 6 p.m., the butterfly release ceremony is at 6:45 and the Sunset Survivor Walk begins at 7. Participants in the 5K run/walk or 1-mile walk can start warming up with aerobics at 7:20 p.m. The 5K run/walk begins at 7:30 p.m. and the 1-mile walk starts at 8 p.m.

The awards ceremony is at 8:15 p.m. An after party is scheduled at Caddy’s on Central, 217 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, at 9 p.m. For more information, including costs, visit komen­sunco­ast.o­rg.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at webmaster@TBNweekly.com.
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