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Home : News : News
NEWS | Oct. 18, 2012

Medical staff: early detection key

By Robert Goetz Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs

In his proclamation announcing October as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, President Barack Obama called early detection one of the keys in the fight against the deadly disease that claims the lives of tens of thousands of women each year.

At Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, 359th Medical Group health care professionals, in accordance with the American Cancer Society, stress the importance of early detection by encouraging yearly mammograms for women starting at age 40 and monthly breast self-exams as early as age 18. They also recommend clinical breast exams by a health care professional at least every three years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and older.

"It's important to get a mammogram every year and to do self-exams monthly," Senior Airman Leona Rodriguez, 59th Radiology Squadron X-ray mammography technician, said. "If you're doing these things, you have a lot more options if something is discovered."

Rodriguez, who handles about 200 mammograms per month at Randolph, said the clinic is observing National Breast Cancer Awareness Month with an informational table set up in the lobby.

In addition, mammography locations at Randolph, San Antonio Military Medical Center and Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center will offer walk-in screenings 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 26 with no appointment required. Participation is limited to patients at least 40 years of age who also meet other criteria.

Annual mammograms and regular breast exams are important because they can detect breast cancer before it causes any symptoms - and before it has time to spread.

Lt. Col. (Dr.) Brian York, 359th MDG chief of medical staff, said annual wellness visits with mammography and screening for cervical cancer with a Pap smear are a TRICARE benefit.

"We strongly encourage all beneficiaries to take advantage of this benefit," he said.

Although the Randolph clinic recommends a baseline mammogram at age 35 or 36 and annual screenings starting at age 40 for patients at average risk of developing a breast cancer, family history and other factors may dictate screenings at a younger age if a relative was diagnosed in her 20s.

"There are patients with a higher risk of cancer or whose concern for cancer may prompt an earlier discussion with their health care provider about the risks and benefits of early screening for breast cancer," York said. "Breast cancer is a devastating disease for the patient and the people who care for them."

Family history is just one of breast cancer's risk factors, according to the American Cancer Society. Others include gender, age, genetics, personal history, race and ethnicity.

The disease is 100 times more common among women than men, the risk of developing breast cancer increases as people age and about 5 to 10 percent of cases are believed to be hereditary, according to the ACS. In addition, white women are slightly more likely to develop the disease than African-American women, but African-American women are more likely to die of breast cancer.

Although women whose close blood relatives have breast cancer are at greater risk of developing the disease, Rodriguez said women without a family history should still get a mammogram annually and do self-exams monthly.

"Just because you don't have women in your family who have had breast cancer doesn't mean you won't get it," she said. "Most women who get breast cancer do not have a family history."

The ACS estimates more than 85 percent of women who get breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease.

York said some lifestyle changes in patients at average risk of developing breast cancer "have been shown to limit their chance of developing breast cancer.

"Brisk walking for 1.25 to 2.5 hours a day was shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer by 18 percent," he said. "Obesity has been linked to an increase in risk of breast cancer, so maintaining normal weight, especially following menopause may decrease a woman's chance of developing breast cancer."

York also said alcohol intake is linked to developing breast cancer.

"The risk appears to increase as you drink more alcohol," he said.