Breast cancer awareness is important for women of all ages

By Jennifer Devereaux
October 19, 2000

by Jennifer Devereaux
staff writer

Annually, 183,000 cases of invasive breast cancer occur in the United States. One in eight American women are affected by this disease. Moreover, about 41,000 American women die of breast cancer per year. With the exception of lung cancer, breast cancer kills more women than any other cancer.

In most cases, when the disease is found early and treatment begins promptly, breast cancer can be cured. Breast cancer, in its most common form, develops in cells lining the ducts of the breasts. The disease may remain within the breast for years. However, it may spread to lymph nodes that are nearby. In some cases it will move to more distant areas before a lump can be felt.

Seventy-five percent of all breast cancers will develop in women over the age of 50. The risk of breast cancer occurring increases with age. This is why it is recommended that women over the age of 50 have mammograms yearly. Women between 40 and 49 should have one every one to two years. Women under the age of 40 should have their first mammogram between the ages of 35 and 39.

Approximately five to ten percent of breast cancers occur as a result of heredity. Some other factors that increase risk include late age of menopause, the onset of menstruation before the age of 12, giving birth to a first child over the age of 30, never giving birth and being 40 percent over one’s normal weight.

There are three categories of breast cancer; early, invasive and metastic. They are categorized by location and how far they spread throughout the body. The first category, early, is confined to the ducts or lobules. The second category, invasive, has spread into surrounding breast areas beyond ducts or lobules. And the third category, metastic, has spread to other parts of the body, such as bones, lungs, distant lymph nodes, the liver or the brain.

Although it is not necessary for women to begin having mammograms until they are between 35 and 39, women of all ages should examine their breasts monthly. Moreover, women under the age of 40 should have a breast exam by their doctor at least every three years and women over the age of 40 should have an exam yearly.

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Jennifer Devereaux

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