Breast cancer is a disease that will develop in about 1 in 4 U.S. women over a lifetime, making raising awareness about the disease and the protection methods available an important aspect of fighting the statistics, according to breastcancer.org.
“Breast cancer is a malignancy that can spread to affect other organs of the body,” Jean Swearingen, medical director at Student Health Services, said.
Due to the large number of cases of breast cancer in the U.S., individuals can take preventative measures to avoid undetected breast cancer, or breast cancer in general.
“A self [at home] breast exam can be done by anyone,” Swearingen said. “Instructions on how to do this can be obtained through Student Health Services, either by handout or students can be taught by a provider.”
However, Swearingen said there is controversy over the effectiveness of self breast exams.
“Risk of breast cancer increases as women age, so regular self exams may become more useful over the age of 40,” she said.
Swearingen added that general breast awareness is recommended by some medical societies, which may include self exams starting around age 20.
“A woman who notes a lump in her breast after a self exam should have it examined closer by their medical provider,” Swearingen said.
She noted that most often, a lump is not cancer, but should be checked out by professionals to be sure.
It is also important to be aware that some women are at higher risk for breast cancer than others.
“Some women may have an increased genetic risk of breast cancer. Other risk factors beyond genetics include hormonal factors, obesity and excessive alcohol intake,” Swearingen said.
Although breast cancer is typically thought of as a disease affecting females, males may also be diagnosed with breast cancer, though it is very rare, she said.
There are about 2,240 new cases of invasive breast cancer expected to be diagnosed in men in 2013. A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000, according to breastcancer.org.
Another measure that can be taken to prevent breast cancer from going unnoticed is breast exams with healthcare providers.
“This is also controversial. Some medical societies recommend an exam by a medical provider every few years between the ages of 20 and 40, and yearly thereafter,” Swearingen said.
“Regular mammograms should start between 40 and 50 depending on risk factors,” she added.
There are other healthy practices that can lower the odds of getting breast cancer; many being simple lifestyle changes.
“Regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding excessive alcohol and following the screening guidelines I talked about earlier all can help lower your risk,” she said.
Students can schedule breast exams at Student Health Services. To make an appointment, visit the Student Health Services website at
HealthServices.Ilstu.edu/appointments or call (309) 438-APPT (2778).