DeLeeza Jenkins, 59 and mother of two grown children had no family history of breast or ovarian cancer. When she had her annual baseline mammogram, it showed dense breast tissue but no suspicious findings. Since DeLeeza had dense breasts, her physician also scheduled her for a screening breast ultrasound which was done on the same day as the mammo. The test revealed an area of abnormality. The radiologist offered to perform a same-day biopsy before the Charlotte, N.C. mom left the office. Unfortunately, the biopsy resulted in a diagnosis of cancer. “When I heard the word ‘cancer,’ my mind went blank. I was terrified, speechless and motionless all at the same time,” recounts DeLeeza.

The middle school teacher was immediately referred to a breast surgeon within days of her diagnosis, who managed her clinical care. Thankfully, DeLeeza had a very early form of cancer, Stage 0, so her prognosis is excellent. DeLeeza is thankful that she kept up with her yearly mammograms and breast ultrasounds. “Hearing that you have cancer will stop you dead in your tracks! I am so, so very thankful that I never missed any of my screenings and that the diagnosis was in an early state. Just imagine if I had been neglectful with regards to my diagnostic testings! Since my diagnosis, I continuously urge women to go for their yearly mammos and ultrasounds of their breasts, and to absolutely, NOT skip a year,” warns DeLeeza.

Breast cancer facts

Approximately 270,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Around 80 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer are over 50 years of age so many are likely to be menopausal. The presence of breast cancer risk factors does not mean that cancer is inevitable; many women with risk factors never develop breast cancer. Instead, risk factors help to identify women who may benefit most from screening or other preventive measures. It is important to remember that breast cancer can also occur in women who have no identifiable risk factors.

Despite the recent decline in breast cancer mortality, African American women continue to die from breast cancer at higher rates than do white women. Breast cancer tends to be a more biologically aggressive disease in African American than in white women. In addition to biological factors, there are disparities that also reflect social, economic, and cultural barriers that disproportionately affect African American women. Barriers such as poverty and racism both hinder cancer prevention and control efforts.

Breast cancer does occur in men, especially in elderly men. And like African American women, Black men are hit harder by breast cancer than their white counterparts. After diagnosis, African American men are three times more likely to die from breast cancer than white men. This difference is probably due to the same factors suggested by research involving African American women.

But disparities in healthcare shouldn’t be any part of the reason for a less favorable outlook after breast cancer treatment. No matter your gender or ethnicity, do your best to make sure that you’re getting the best care possible.

The average woman has approximately a 10 to 15 percent chance of developing breast cancer if she lives into her 90s. On the other hand, the risk of developing breast cancer in a woman with a strong family history of the disease who has inherited one of the genes that predispose her to breast cancer is over 50 percent. All women should discuss guidelines for breast cancer screening with their doctors even if they have a low risk for breast cancer based upon their risk factor profile.

Weight gain and obesity are associated with an increased risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. Long-term use of combined oral estrogen-progestin (for five years or more) in women ages 50 to 79 increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer as well as heart disease, stroke, and clots in the legs.

There is a significant relationship between alcohol consumption and an increased risk of breast cancer, which begins with alcohol intake as low as three drinks per week. The risk appears to increase with greater alcohol consumption and additive with the use of menopausal hormone therapy. There does not appear to be a difference by type of alcohol.

Some studies have shown that high consumption of a diet composed predominantly of fruits and vegetables resulted in a lower risk of breast cancer.

Eating more than five servings of red meat per week may be associated with an increased risk of hormone-positive premenopausal breast cancer.

Dietary soy does not appear to increase breast cancer risk.

There is no strong association between caffeine intake and breast cancer risk.

Mammograms saves lives

Since 1990, mammography has helped reduce breast cancer deaths in this country by nearly 40 percent! Even for women 50+, skipping a mammogram every other year would miss up to 30% of cancers.

A mammogram is a specific type of breast exam used to aid in the early detection and diagnosis of breast diseases in women. The approximately 20-minute medical exam uses a noninvasive X-ray targeted to each breast, producing pictures that your doctor can use to identify and treat any abnormal areas, possibly indicating the presence of cancer.

Bottom line, annual mammograms can detect cancer early — when it is most treatable. In fact, mammograms show changes in the breast up to two years before a patient or physician can feel them. Mammograms can also prevent the need for extensive treatment for advanced cancers and improve chances of breast conservation. Current guidelines from the American College of Radiology and the Society for Breast Imaging recommend that women receive annual mammograms starting at age 40 — even if they have no symptoms or family history of breast cancer.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, so let’s take better care of ourselves and loved ones! Schedule your or your loved one’s screening mammogram today, it can be lifesaving!

For more information on finding an imaging facility that is accredited by the American College of Radiology (ACR) call their hotline at 800-770-0145 or visit their website, www.acr.org