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Getting Proactive about Breast Cancer

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DID YOU KNOW?  Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, other than skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, it is the second leading cause of cancer death in women; the chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer sometime during her life is about 1 in 8.

But the good news is that cancer death rates are going down. Improved treatment capabilities and earlier detection are credited for helping women catch it early. And don’t forget daily exercise; a study published in JAMA—The Journal of the American Medical Association found that just one hour, 15 minutes to two and a half hours of brisk walking each week, decreased breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women by 18 percent. Did you know: women who walked 10 hours or more each week had a slightly lower risk. Every little bit helps! Here are some more key tips on increasing your awareness and how to detect breast cancer.

What is Your Risk?

"Every woman is at risk, and the risk increases as you age," explains Deborah Kerlin, MD, director of breast health services for John Muir Health. "It is important for each woman to be familiar with the physical characteristics of her own breasts so that she is aware of changes that may occur over time." Most changes that occur are normal and benign. If there is a problem, early identification allows for rapid evaluation and increases the potential for successful treatment.

Early Detection

"Most suspected risk factors are not fully understood and therefore can't be controlled," says Carolyn Berson RN, MSN, nurse educator/patient navigator at John Muir Health. "But you can take steps for early detection and appropriate treatment."

Proactive measures include:

  • Performing breast self-exams (BSE) beginning at age 20.
  • Having a clinical breast exam (CBE) every three years by a health professional if you are 20-39 years old. Then annually after age 40.
  • Annual mammograms for women over 40.


Mammograms are quick and easy. As you stand facing the X-ray equipment, the technologist places your breast between two plastic plates, compressing it briefly.

The process is designed to get a clear picture of your breast. The entire procedure only takes 5 to 10 minutes and may detect lumps that are still too small to feel.

"Screening mammography is the best tool available to screen for breast cancer," observes Vivian Wing, MD, chair of the department of medical imaging at John Muir Health. "Multiple, randomized, controlled trials and observational trials have clearly shown a decrease in breast cancer mortality with screening," she says

Those without insurance and low-income and underinsured women can call 1-800-4-CANCER for details about free annual mammography screenings.

Be proactive

Health care providers agree that no one method of detection is 100 percent accurate. But what is important is that if you do have a suspicious lump, you catch it early.

A three-pronged approach of BSE, CBE, and mammography is your best chance at early detection.

"Learning and practicing BSE, staying on a regular schedule of clinical breast exams and following the appropriate guidelines for mammograms are all highly effective screening tools," notes Dr. Kerlin. "Early diagnosis and treatment are key."

For further information, check it out at John Muir Health’s website.

Other Ways to get Involved

If you  want to get more involved in the cause, there are plenty of more ways to show your support! You can check your local chamber of commerce or hospital websites for information regarding walks or events that focus on bringing breast cancer awareness!

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