October Ushers in Breast Cancer Awareness

El Vaquero Staff Writer

The National Breast Cancer Foundation reports that a woman dies of breast cancer every 12 minutes, but the American Cancer Society estimates that over 400 men in the U.S. will also lose their lives to the same disease this year.

In a concerted effort to save lives, the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month campaign continues to actively promote breast cancer awareness. This October marks the campaign’s 18th year of educating women about the importance of detecting the cancer in its early stages.

“The most important thing women need to know is that they must detect it early,” said Carmita Veliz, a nurse in the campus Health Center. “The earlier it’s detected, the better.”

Veliz said that although breast cancer is more prevalent among older women, younger women should also receive regular check-ups. Studies conducted by the National Breast Cancer Foundation have revealed that the disease is typically more aggressive in young women.

Breast cancer is not only hereditary and women with no family history of the cancer are not immune from developing it. Approximately 85 percent of women with breast cancer have a negative family history.

According to Veliz, stress, smoking and high blood pressure are all factors that contribute to the development of breast cancer. “We live in a modern society where women are doing things that they haven’t traditionally done before,” she said.

Women are encouraged to get an annual mammography, which is done using a specially made machine designed specifically for detecting breast cancer. Although it may cause discomfort, Veliz said that it is not painful. Ultrasound is a secondary tool that may be used to determine if the patient has cancer.

“Cancer is not a life sentence,” said Veliz. “But it is a serious enough disease that needs to be stopped.” The American Cancer Society says that nearly 39,800 of the projected 211,300 breast cancer cases in women this year will result in death.

Approximately 1,300 men will also develop breast cancer in 2003, of which 400 are not expected to survive. One man will develop breast cancer for every 100 women, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Though this may surprise many, Veliz said that males also have breasts, but without as much tissue as women.

While the percentage of men who are diagnosed with breast cancer is small, the National Breast Cancer Foundation recommends that men should also give themselves monthly exams and note changes to their physicians. It is unknown why the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month campaign does not concentrate on promoting awareness to men as well.

“It would be great if there was an organization that made men aware that they are also susceptible to developing breast cancer,” said Veliz. Locally, women in Glendale can receive free testing for breast cancer.

The Glendale YWCA provides free breast exams, mammograms and cervical cancer screenings (pap smear) for women who are more than 40 years old, have low incomes or have no health insurance. Women with a family history of breast cancer may also qualify for a free examination and free pap smears are given to women who are at least 18 years old.

Veliz believes that young women should not wait to consult a doctor when something appears to be abnormal, but should have regular check-ups instead.

“Women should take advantage of resources available,” she said. “They need to realize that all women are vulnerable to the disease.”

Facts From the National Breast Cancer Foundation and the American Cancer Society:

  • California is projected to have 4,000 deaths from breast cancer, the most of any state in the country.
  • 80 percent of discovered lumps are not cancerous.
  • Breast cancer is the most common malignancy in women and the second leading cause of cancer death (exceeded by lung cancer in 1985).
  • The incidence of breast cancer has been increasing steadily from an incidence of one in 20 in 1960, to one in eight women today.
  • The evaluation of men with breast masses is similar to that in women, including mammography.

    The incidence of breast cancer is very low in the 20s, gradually increases and plateaus at the age of 45 and increases dramatically after 50.