The earlier the better is the motto of doctors diagnosing and treating breast cancer.
Dr. Steven Snyder, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Sheffield, said early detection and diagnosis set up the best chance for survival and can, in some cases, lead to less invasive treatments.
“If you have any abnormal symptoms, you need to see your doctor,” Snyder said. “You never need to sit and watch it.”
The Susan G. Komen Foundation, a leading organization dedicated to breast cancer education and research, predicts in 2012 there will be more than 290,000 new cases of breast cancer and more than 39,500 breast cancer-related deaths.
In Alabama in 2010, the most recent information available from the Alabama Department of Public Health, there were 695 breast cancer-related deaths, including 16 in Lauderdale County, five in Colbert County and five in Franklin County.
The risk factors for breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, include aging, genetics and a family history of breast cancer, dense breast tissue and women who started menstruating before 12 or went through menopause after 55. Women with no pregnancies and women who had their first child after 30 have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer.
Synder said women should assess those risks factors and talk to their doctors about the proper frequency of breast cancer screenings.
He said all women 40 years old and older should have yearly mammograms. He said there have been studies that show women 75 and older could discontinue yearly mammograms, but stressed that decision should be made by the patient and her doctor.
Breast MRIs and ultrasounds are other imaging tests used for breast cancer screenings.
Other screenings include a clinical breast exam by a gynecologist or other physician. Snyder said women between 20-39 need a clinical breast exam every one to three years, and at 40, women should start having year clinical breast exams.
A common notion that women should do monthly self breast checks is beginning to be questioned. But Snyder said he still encourages his patients to continue doing the monthly checks.
“It is documented that women are more likely to find a lump than the doctor, because they are more familiar with their body,” he said. “They live with their body every day while their doctor may only see them once a year.”
Symptoms of breast cancer include an abnormal lump in the breast, dimpling of the breast, new nipple inversion, nipple discharge and skin changes, he said.
Women who test positive for mutations of the BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 gene are candidates for more frequent and more aggressive screening and treatment options. Snyder said those range from having clinical breast exams more often to a prophylactic mastectomy, preemptive surgery to remove one or both breasts to lessen the risks of breast cancer.
But Snyder said no matter the circumstances, the best protection from breast cancer is early detection.
“The earlier we catch it, the better off you are,” he said.
Jennifer Edwards can be reached at 256-740-5754 or jennifer.edwards@TimesDaily.com.