October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in American women, behind lung cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, 2,270 Oklahoma women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and 510 women are expected to die from the disease. The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) wants to remind women to be screened for breast cancer so that early detection and treatment can save lives.

"The most effective way to detect breast cancer at an early, treatable stage is to obtain an annual mammogram starting at age 40," said Secretary of Health and Commissioner of Health Dr. Mike Crutcher. "Having a clinical breast exam at least every three years by a doctor or nurse is another way to detect breast cancer early. While it is not yet known exactly what causes breast cancer, it is known that certain risk factors are linked to the disease. Women under the age of 40 and those at high risk for breast cancer should talk with their healthcare provider about screening recommendations."

While all women are at risk for breast cancer, the factors listed below can increase a woman's chances of having the disease:

Risk factors you cannot change include the following:

• Being female
• Increasing age
• Having breast cancer gene (BRCA1 or BRCA2)
• Having a mother, sister, or daughter who has had breast cancer (know your family history)
• Having a personal history of breast, ovarian, or endometrial cancer
• Race
• Having an abnormal breast biopsy
• Having early onset of menstrual periods (before age 12) or menopause after the age of 55
• Having radiation treatment to chest area


Risk factors that may be associated with lifestyle choices include:

• Having first pregnancy after age 30, never having had a child or not breast feeding
• Having long-term use of birth control pills or hormones (HRT)
• Using alcohol regularly
• Being overweight, especially after menopause
• Lack of regular exercise

Women are encouraged to talk with their families about the family's health history and to become familiar with their bodies, especially the breast changes that occur normally during their lifetime. The most common sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. A lump that is painless, hard, and has uneven edges is more likely to be cancer. But some cancers are tender, soft, and rounded. So it's important to have anything unusual checked by your healthcare provider.

Other signs of breast cancer include the following:

• Swelling of all or part of the breast
• Skin irritation or dimpling breast
• Nipple pain or the nipple turning inward
• Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
• Nipple discharge other than breast milk
• Lump in the underarm area

The OSDH's Take Charge! Program offers no cost breast and cervical cancer screening for low income, uninsured and underinsured Oklahoma women between the ages of 40 and 64.