JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas —
Two 59th Medical Wing military facilities are emphasizing the importance of mammograms in detecting the early stages of breast cancer with walk-in screenings during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.
The mammography clinic at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland’s Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center will offer mammograms Oct. 26 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. At JBSA-Randolph, the 359th Medical Group will offer mammograms from 7:30 a.m. to noon and 1-3:30 p.m. every Friday during October as long as a provider submits a request.
Except for skin cancers, breast cancer is the most common among American women, according to the American Cancer Society, but early treatment equals a better prognosis.
“The main message for women during Breast Cancer Awareness Month is to know your breasts,” said Capt. Victoria Wu, 359th Medical Operations Squadron physician assistant. “If there are any changes, ask a provider to evaluate and discuss the proper screenings with you.”
The ACS recommends annual screenings beginning at age 45, while the Air Force uses a national guideline known as the Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set, or HEDIS, Wu said.
“The guideline encourages women over the age of 52 to do annual mammograms due to the increased prevalence of breast cancer with age,” she said. “However, women should continue to have the option of screening beginning at age 40 or at least have a conversation with a provider about screening at age 40.”
Although health care practitioners encourage women to know how their breasts look and feel, self-exams do not take the place of regular imaging. Screening tests can find breast cancer in its early stages before apparent symptoms appear,” she said.
“The most common sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. Lumps that are painless and hard with irregular borders are more likely to be cancer, but masses that are soft, round and tender can also be breast cancer,” she added.
According to the ACS, other possible symptoms of breast cancer include skin irritation or dimpling; breast or nipple pain; unilateral nipple retraction, or turning inward or outward; redness, scaliness or thickening of the nipple or breast skin; and nipple discharge other than breast milk.
The highest risk factor for breast cancer is age, Wu said.
“Most invasive breast cancers, those that have spread, are found in women age 55 and older,” she said.
Women who have close blood relatives with breast cancer have a higher risk of the disease, but Wu noted most women – eight in 10 – who get breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease, according to the ACS.
“Overall, less than 15 percent of women with breast cancer have a family member with this disease,” she said.
However, having a first-degree relative – mother, sister or daughter – with breast cancer nearly doubles a woman’s risk.
Certain breast cancer risk factors are related to personal behaviors, Wu said. These include drinking alcohol – having more than one alcoholic drink a day – and being overweight or obese after menopause.
“After menopause, fat tissue makes more estrogen, which increases a woman’s chance of breast cancer,” she said.
Women who have not had children or who had their first child after age 30 also have a slightly higher breast cancer risk overall, Wu said. However, having many pregnancies and becoming pregnant at an early age reduces breast cancer risk overall.
Stressing the importance of early detection, Wu said, women should be knowledgeable about breast cancer and realize that screening exams find cancers before they start to cause symptoms, leading to early treatment and better outcomes.
“When women educate themselves, they empower themselves to make informed decisions,” she said.
Part of the education process is having conversations with a provider.
“We want to be accessible to our patients and give them the most up-to-date information,” Wu said.