Mature Living Special Section: Reduce the risk of breast cancer

Published on Wed, Oct 12, 2011
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Photo courtesy of PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center

The annual explosion of pink has become one of the most visible reminders of the importance of early detection and breast cancer awareness.

Breast cancer is most common in women, but it does occur in men. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer sometime during her life is a little less than 1 in 8. For men, the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.

While there is no way to prevent breast cancer, there are things you can do to reduce the likelihood of getting it. Several risk factors are linked to the disease. Risk factors simply increase your chance of getting the disease; they don’t mean you’ll actually get cancer. There are two types of risk factors – those you have no control over and those you can change. For example, you can’t change your gender, age or family history of the disease. But you can limit your alcohol intake, maintain a healthy weight and exercise – all of which decrease your chances for breast cancer.

Detecting cancer before symptoms are present increases treatment success rates. Women should adhere to the ACS’s guidelines for detecting breast cancer early. These guidelines indicate that women ages 40 and older should have an annual mammogram and clinical breast exam, and women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical exam every three years.
The ACS guidelines also encourage women (and men) to conduct self-exams. Self-exams allow you to become familiar with your breasts in order to detect any abnormalities. The most common symptom is a new lump or mass, but you should also look for dimpling, nipple pain or any discharge other than milk.

Any symptoms that might be a sign of breast cancer may encourage your doctor to conduct more tests. If these tests show that you have cancer, a biopsy (removal of cells to be studied) is conducted. Following the biopsy, your doctor will determine how widespread the cancer is in order to decide the best treatment options.

The PeaceHealth St. Joseph Cancer Center provides a multi-disciplinary approach to the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Their team of experts is dedicated to excellence in both advanced technology and compassionate care. This is demonstrated by their cancer survival rates (for breast, colon, lung and prostate cancers), which beat national averages by 10 percent.

Cancer is a daunting disease that can have an adverse effect on a patient’s mind, body and spirit. To counter these unfavorable reactions, the PeaceHealth St. Joseph Cancer Center treats the whole patient, not just the disease.

The Cancer Center provides patients who have temporary hair loss with access to free wigs, hats and scarves, allows patients to check out a variety of informative books from their library, offers massage, Reiki and reflexology to patients interested in complementing their medical care with relaxing therapies, makes classes and support groups available to patients and their loved ones and offers gym memberships and scheduled programs to combat the fatigue that often accompanies chemotherapy treatment. 

Carol Brumet, Outreach Coordinator for PeaceHealth St. Joseph Cancer Center, understands the importance of cancer detection. “As a 16-year breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in my 30s, I am living proof that a mammogram can save your life!” Brumet said.

While mammograms aren’t typically something women look forward to, the PeaceHealth St. Joseph Cancer Center has put a spin on this annual recommendation. Now in its seventh year, the Cancer Center’s mammogram party invites women ages 40 and older to drop in for a mammogram. Medical experts are on hand to answer questions, accompanied by goodie bags, prizes and general information. This year’s party is scheduled for Friday, October 28, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Mt. Baker Imaging, 4025 Northwest Avenue, Bellingham.

To learn more about programs and services that are available to support a cancer diagnosis in our community, contact the PeaceHealth St. Joseph Cancer Center resource center at 360/738-6701 or visit

Washington State Department of Health’s Breast, Cervical and Colon Health Program provides free screenings to low income people. Visit for more information.