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Breast Cancer — Be Aware and Take Action


In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Liz Lopez, Breast Health Navigator at Memorial Medical Center’s Women’s Imaging Center, answers some of the most frequently asked questions concerning this form of cancer.

Why is Breast Cancer Awareness Month so important?

The average woman’s risk of breast cancer is around 13 percent in the U.S. – meaning about one in eight women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in her lifetime. In fact, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among American women, besides skin cancers. Breast cancer is also the second leading cause of cancer death in women, superseded only by lung cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 264,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the U.S., and roughly 42,000 women die as a result.

What are the risk factors?

Arguably, the biggest risk factor for developing breast cancer is aging, but it’s important to remember all women – no matter their age – can develop breast cancer. This means you may need to begin annual screenings sooner if you are at higher risk of developing the disease. Important risk factors to consider include genetic mutations, having dense breasts, a family history of breast cancer, a lack of physical activity, and being overweight after menopause, among others. Talk with your provider about your risk factors and ask about the best time for you to begin regular breast health screenings.

What are the symptoms?

There are many types of breast cancer, and they can present with a variety of warning signs. Some of these signs may include a new lump in the breast or underarm, any change in the size or shape of the breast, breast skin irritation, pain in any area of the breast, and discharge other than breast milk. Although there are many different symptoms of breast cancer, some people diagnosed with breast cancer have no signs at all. That’s why it’s so important to stay on top of your health and take the proper steps to prevent breast cancer, including having screening mammograms.

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is a simple, routine screening that takes about an hour, and can detect breast cancer before symptoms start to appear. Mammograms have been proven to help reduce deaths from breast cancer by identifying the disease early when treatment is most effective. Most women should get their first mammogram at age 40, and repeat based on their provider’s recommendations.

What else can I do?

In addition to mammograms, there are a few proactive things you can do to help lower your risk for breast cancer. It’s important to exercise regularly, get enough sleep, eat healthy, limit your alcohol intake and avoid chemicals that can cause cancer. Clinical breast exams and self-exams are also good secondary methods for identifying warning signs like lumps or breast pain.

If you would like to schedule a mammogram, call Memorial Medical Center at 575.521.5270. To find a provider, visit the “Find a Provider” tab at mmclc.org. For more information on breast cancer and mammograms, visit mmclc.org/BreastHealth, breastcancer.org and cdc.gov/cancer/breast.