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Breast cancer 101: Six key things every woman should know



What’s your risk? When should you get screened? Here’s a refresher.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States – and it’s the second most lethal. You may have heard statistics like this before. But do you know where New Jersey ranks, in terms of new cases of breast cancer?

According to CDC statistics, out of 48 states and two other areas (Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia) reporting statistics, New Jersey sees the 9th-highest rate of new cases of breast cancer among women. For every 100,000 women in New Jersey, 127.6 will get breast cancer. The rate is significantly higher than the national rate of 119.2.

Do you have a good understanding of symptoms, tests, treatments and other factors surrounding breast cancer? It never hurts to brush up.

Yes, there are symptoms of breast cancer. A lump or swelling in the breast or underarm area is a common cause for concern. Pain in the nipple or discharge other than breast milk can also be a sign. But symptoms may be as simple as pain anywhere in the breast, or a change in shape. If something seems different about your breasts, the smart thing is to talk to your doctor about getting screened for breast cancer.

Screening can detect cancer early. While feeling for lumps or looking out for pain can detect cancer, the best tool we have at our disposal is the mammogram. During a mammogram, each breast is flattened between two plates and X-rayed. Mammogram results are usually available within a few weeks, and you’ll be advised by your health care provider on next steps, if any are necessary.

It’s essential to start and maintain a schedule of screenings. If you’re age 40 to 49, you should ask your doctor about getting a mammogram. If you’re age 50 to 76, you should be getting a mammogram every two years.

Your likelihood of getting breast cancer depends on many factors. Family history of breast or ovarian cancer is a big one. So is your reproductive history – getting your first period at a young age, or entering menopause later than average, can indicate a higher risk. Having dense breasts, or simply getting older, can also be risk factors. Because there are so many variables to consider, the best course of action is to have a talk with your doctor or health care provider.

Some risk factors are within your control. Research shows that a lack of physical activity and drinking alcohol can increase your risk for breast cancer. Your doctor or health care provider can tell you more about choices you can make to lessen your chances of getting breast cancer.

Treatment depends on detection. We focus on risk factors, symptoms and screenings because detecting breast cancer early can make a world of difference. Breast cancer can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy, or radiation therapy – your doctor or a team of doctors will work with you to determine the best course of treatment, which is often a combination of therapies. The strategy will have a lot to do with the type of breast cancer, and how far it has spread.

All women should discuss breast cancer with their doctor or health care provider, and women in New Jersey should be aware that they may be at higher risk for the disease. Don’t delay the conversations and screenings that could make all the difference.

Horizon Health News is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.