October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month—a annual observance aimed at raising both awareness and funding. The funding is for research into the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and ultimately the cure for breast cancer. Awareness is generated in part through a pink ribbon, a symbol of solidarity among women and families touched by the disease.

Such solidarity is found year around at The BreastCare Center at YRMC East in Prescott Valley. The center bands together to take on breast cancer and support women through all phases of the disease—prevention, detection, diagnosis, treatment and supportive care.

At the BreastCare Center, women can receive one-on-one support from a clinical navigator, a registered nurse assigned just to them. This navigator serves as personal guide, advocate, educator and friend. And should the need arise, helps to perform a risk analysis.

“If a patient’s family history shows they carry a higher risk for breast cancer, one of our navigators can perform a more comprehensive risk assessment called the Tyrer-Cuzick,” said Kathleen Hoffer, Imaging Operations Manager at the BreastCare Center. The tool is used to help inform a person’s decision about whether to get more genetic counselling and testing. Such genetic testing may be done through the center or a genetics expert may visit the home.

Risk Factors

Along with risk factors associated with family history and genetics, the National Breast Cancer Foundation has identified the following breast cancer risks:

  • Gender: Women are 100 times more likely to get it than men
  • Age: Two out of three women are diagnosed after age 55
  • Race: White women are more likely to get it
  • Personal health history: If you get cancer in one breast, you risk getting it in the other breast
  • Menstrual and reproductive history: Your risk increases if you started menstruating early (before age 12), started menopause after 55, had your first child when older or never gave birth
  • Dense breast tissue: Increases your risk and make lumps harder to detect

Early Detection

“When patients are aware they carry a higher risk for breast cancer, they are usually more diligent about getting their regular screenings done,” Hoffer said. “Those at a really high risk might have an MRI along with their mammogram. If they find they have dense breast tissue, we may recommend tomography or ultrasound.”

Early detection saves lives. When caught early enough, breast cancer is often stopped before it spreads. Regular screenings can detect breast cancer even before symptoms occur. These symptoms, once evident, include:

  • Change in the look or feel, size or shape, of the breast
  • Change in the look or feel of the nipple, including nipple discharge
  • A lump or hard knot in the breast or underarm area
  • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Persistent pain in one area of the breast

Prevention

A healthy body is better equipped to fight off disease, including cancer of the breast. So basic healthy living is your main defense against breast cancer. These basics haven’t changed: exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week; maintain a healthy weight; don’t smoke; and limit alcohol to one drink a day for women, two drinks a day for men.