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Breast Cancer Q & A With Komen St. Louis

There is so much information out about breast cancer that it can be somewhat overwhelming, so 'Patch' spoke with Komen St. Louis in an effort to gather answers for readers and have them available in one article.

October is designated National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. All month long, Patch has been providing readers with information on the disease.

There are so many statistics and there is so much information about breast cancer that it can become a bit overwhelming when searching online, so Patch spoke with Komen St. Louis in an effort to gather some answers for readers and compile them into one place.

According to its website, the St. Louis Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure's mission is "to save lives and end breast cancer forever by empowering people, ensuring quality care for all and energizing science to find the cures. Komen St. Louis is dedicated to meeting the breast health needs of the women, men and families most at risk and most in need in our 17-county Missouri/Illinois service area."

The following are questions Patch asked and the answers Komen St. Louis offered to our questions. (Some answers were shortened in the editing process.)

1. How concerned should the average woman be about breast cancer?

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women in the U.S. (second only to skin cancers), accounting for nearly 1 in 3 cancers diagnosed among women. A woman in the U.S. has a 1 in 8 lifetime breast cancer risk. The most proven and significant risk factors for getting breast cancer are being female and getting older.

It is important for women to be aware of their bodies, pay attention to any changes and talk with a health care provider about any concerns. Breast cancer can be treatable, especially when detected early. Susan G. Komen for the Cure® recommends these steps for breast self-awareness:

Know your risk

  • Talk to your family to learn about your family health history
  • Talk to your health care provider about your personal risk of breast cancer

Get screened

  • Ask your doctor which screening tests are right for you if you are at a higher risk
  • Have a mammogram every year starting at age 40 if you are at average risk
  • Have a clinical breast exam at least every 3 years starting at age 20, and every year starting at age 40

Know what is normal for you

  • See your health care provider if you notice any of these breast changes:
  • Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
  • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
  • Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
  • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
  • New pain in one spot that doesn't go away

Make healthy lifestyle choices

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Add exercise into your routine
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Limit postmenopausal hormone use
  • Breastfeed, if you can

2. At what age should a woman with no family history of breast cancer begin getting mammograms?

For a woman with an average risk for breast cancer – as determined through consultation with her health care provider – Komen recommends a mammogram every year beginning at age 40. A woman should have a clinical breast exam every three years starting at age 20, and then annually starting at age 40.  

3. What is the first thing a woman should do if diagnosed with breast cancer?

First, know that a breast cancer diagnosis is not necessarily a death sentence. And know you are not alone. There are more than 2.9 million breast cancer survivors alive today in the United States. Early detection and effective treatment have improved survivorship and decreased mortality rates.

If you or someone you know is diagnosed with breast cancer, you can find the latest information, get the answers you need and stay informed by visiting www.komen.org.

Plus, this website offers an interactive Breast Cancer 101 tool and an interactive treatment navigational tool for newly diagnosed patients.

4. How important are support groups for a breast cancer patient during and after treatment?

The support of family, friends and others can be helpful for those going through breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and beyond. Some people living with breast cancer benefit from involvement in support groups, which can help in the recovery process by offering information, emotional support and an additional support network. 

Everyone has different needs, so it’s important to find a healthy support system that works best for you. Talking to a patient navigator is a good way to find a support group that fits your needs. Komen St. Louis also can provide information about local support groups.

5. Are there certain foods that are believed to be "cancer fighting" foods that women should incorporate into their diets on a regular basis, whether they have breast cancer or not?

Making healthy lifestyle choices – including healthy eating choices – may help lower your risk of breast cancer as well as your risk of heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer and osteoporosis. To promote overall health and possibly reduce your breast cancer risk, Susan G. Komen for the Cure (supported by resources from American Cancer Society, Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, and Institute of Medicine) recommends these steps related to diet:

  • Choose 100 percent whole grain foods (like 100 percent whole grain breads and cereals, brown rice, popcorn and quinoa) more often.
  • Limit red meat and processed meat (choose chicken, fish or beans instead).
  • Cut down on "bad" fats (saturated and trans fats), and eat more "good" fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, like olive and canola oil).
  • Get enough vitamin D and calcium every day. For women and men ages 51 to 70, this means 10 mcg600 IU of vitamin D and 1,200 mg of calcium. For men ages 51 to 70, this means 600 IU of vitamin D and 1,000 mg of calcium.
  • Take a daily multivitamin with 400 mcg of folic acid (often called folate on nutrition labels).
  • If you drink alcohol, limit to drinking less than one drink of alcohol a day (for women; and fewer than two drinks a day for men). Those who drink alcohol should try to get enough folic acid, either through a multivitamin or foods like oranges, orange juice, leafy green vegetables and fortified breakfast cereals.

6. What are some reliable resources women can access when looking for additional information on breast cancer?

Fortunately, a wealth of breast cancer information, resources and support is available. Visit Susan G. Komen for the Cure online at www.komen.org to learn more about early detection and screening, diagnosis, treatment, insurance and financial issues, getting good care, breast cancer therapies, breast cancer research, and support programs. Komen’s breast care helpline (1-877 GO KOMEN or 1-877-465-6636) provides free, professional support services to anyone with questions or concerns about breast health or breast cancer.

For local information and resources, contact the St. Louis Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure online at www.komenstlouis.org or by phone at 314-569-3900. 

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