October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October 8, 2014

Newport Hospital shares important information about breast cancer risks and symptoms; will conduct free women’s cancer screening on October 25

October brings thoughts of autumn colors and cool evenings, but according to Marlene Davis, RNC, BSN, coordinator of the Women’s Cancer Screening Program at Newport Hospital, it’s also is a time to remind all women and the men who love them about breast cancer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, not counting some types of skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women regardless of race or ethnicity, Davis says. It’s the most common cause of cancer death among Hispanic women, and it’s the second most common cause of death from cancer among Whites, Blacks, Asian/ Pacific Islanders and Native American / Alaskan Indian women.

The main factors that influence your risk for breast cancer include being a woman, says Davis, especially a woman older than age 50 or one who has experienced changes in certain breast cancer genes (BRCA 1 and BRCA 2). Other risk factors include long term use of hormone replacement therapy, family or personal history of breast cancer or benign breast disease, radiation therapy to the breast or chest, dense breasts, alcohol use and night shift work.

“Having risk factors does not mean a woman will definitely get the disease,” adds Davis. “However, some women will develop breast cancer without any history or predisposing factors.”

Breast cancer symptoms include:

  • A new lump or thickening in the breast or arm pit
  • Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no lump is felt)
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
  • Redness or flaky skin on the nipple or breast
  • Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the breast or nipple area
  • Discharge from the nipple other than breast milk, including blood
  • Changes in the shape of the breast or any breast pain

While these symptoms can be caused by things other than breast cancer, Davis says they should be reported to a doctor to find the cause. The most common breast cancer symptom is a new lump or mass. A mass that is painless, hard, and has irregular edges is more likely to be cancerous, but breast cancers can be tender, soft, or rounded and can even be painful. In some cases, a breast cancer can spread to lymph nodes under the arm or around the collar bone and cause a lump or swelling there, even before the original tumor in the breast tissue is large enough to be felt.

Davis advises that women of average risk should have a screening mammogram at age 40. If she has increased risk, she should discuss this with her primary care provider to decide at what age routine screening should begin. The American Cancer Society reports that while some breast cancers are not found by mammograms, widespread use of screening mammograms has increased the number of breast cancers found before they cause any symptoms.

Breast Exams

Self breast exams should be done monthly in between the regular menstrual period; many lumps are found this way. If a woman feels something suspicious is present, Davis says she should contact her primary care provider to have an exam and plan the next step. “Although very rare,” she adds, “men can also get breast cancer. It can happen at any age, but is most common in men over the age of 60. Treatment is the same for women or men. Breast cancer when detected early is treatable and many survivors go on to live long healthy lives.”

Newport Hospital offers free clinical breast exams with screening mammograms twice yearly – in April and October. The next event will be held on Saturday, October 25 from 9 a.m. to noon at Newport Hospital. This is for women between the ages of 40 and 64 without health insurance or health insurance that does not cover annual mammograms. Participants must also meet financial eligibility criteria. Advanced practice nurses and OB GYN physicians will provide the clinical breast exams. It is by pre registration only; to register please call 401-835-1548.  Newport Hospital will assist women who require transportation, as well as interpreter services.

“Newport Hospital has been offering this program for several years,” says Davis. “During the first few years, 35 to 50 women participated at each event. Last April, there were eight women, which may be a reflection of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. The hospital will continue to offer this service to all women who meet eligibility criteria.”

In the event any woman is unable to take advantage of the October event, she may contact The Women's Cancer Screening Program in Rhode Island by calling 401-222-4324; for hearing impaired call 1-800-745-5555 (TTY).