It’s breast cancer awareness month. What you need to know

pink ribbon squareThis year, about 1,090 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in Hawaii and more than 140 in the state will die from the disease. Behind skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women.

Only 1,090 for a state population of 1.4 million doesn’t sound too bad, right? But that means approximately 1 out of 8 women you know will have to deal with breast cancer. That’s a wife, mom, sister, aunty or grandma that has to undergo treatment.

How you can actively help yourself and other women you love

In this day and age, the easiest way to avoid the complications of breast cancer is by trying to detect it early with an annual mammogram. Besides watching your weight, exercising and avoiding alcohol to lower your risk, a mammogram can help you to find cancer at the earliest stages. Talk to your doctor if you are due for a mammogram. Here’s some great news: The earlier breast cancer is caught the better the outcome. Here’s a table from the American Cancer Society on the breast cancer stages and the survival rate after 5 years.

Stage 5-year Relative Survival Rate
0 100%
I 100%
II 93%
III 72%
IV 22%

Stage 0 involves diagnosing a person with abnormal cells in the lining of the breast duct, lobules of the breast or in the nipple only. Stage I is when cancer has formed and stage II involves diagnosing a tumor that is larger or has spread to the lymph nodes, while stage III includes cancer that involves the lymph nodes and the tumor is even greater. But, at Stage IV, the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, like the bones, lungs, liver, or brain. From the table above, notice that the survival rate between stage III and IV goes from 72% to 22% a drastic difference that hopefully encourages more women to find and treat breast cancer at the earliest stage possible.

If you’re 40 or older

If you are a woman 40 or older, why not schedule your mammogram? Ask your doctor if you’re due for one. If you’re a man, encourage your wife or mom to schedule their mammogram. Most doctors recommend the mammogram as a tool to catch breast cancer early, at its most treatable stage. Doctors recommend a mammogram because the dose of radiation is low and the risk outweighs the benefits of catching a disease right away before it spreads. A mammogram is equivalent to seven weeks of background radiation that an average U.S. citizen receives just by living in the U.S.

For younger women

If you’re a woman in your 20s or 30s, ask your doctor if you should have a clinical breast exam. The National Cancer Institute recommends you receive a clinical breast exam every 3 years in your 20s or 30s and annually once you reach 40. If you do your own breast self-exam, be sure to ask your doctor if your technique is correct and report to your doctor any unusual changes in your breasts (such as, a lump, swelling, pain, a change in shape, dimpling, fluid coming from the nipple, or a red scaly patch of skin). Keep in mind that there are other breast disorders that are more common than cancer and it’s best to have any changes evaluated by your doctor for peace of mind.

Certain women are at higher risk than others based on family or personal history of breast cancer. Be sure to check with your doctor and inquire if you may need additional testing or if you need to see a specialist.

For more information, see this booklet on Breast Cancer from the American Cancer Society.



Denise Lau is a content specialist at HMSA and blogs about mommyhood with her #808moms series. She has her hands full with a precocious, artistic daughter and active son. Her goal is to be healthy and fit while her kids become successful, well-rounded adults. Follow her on Twitter.

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