There's good news from the American Cancer Society (ACS). In its report, Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 2009-2010, the ACS notes that deaths from breast cancer are down.
Looking at data through 2006, the ACS found that death rates from breast cancer have dropped more than 2 percent every year since 1990.
Rates decreased by 3.2 percent among women younger than 50 and by 2 percent among women 50 and older.
Declines were greatest among white and Hispanic women, and breast cancer death rates were also down among African-American and Asian-American women. Death rates overall, however, remain higher in African-American women than in white women.
But there are steps all women can take to catch the disease early.
The ACS believes that more women are surviving breast cancer thanks to early detection through screening, such as mammography, and improvements in treatment.
When caught early, the survival rate for breast cancer is 98 percent at five years. If caught late, however, the survival rate is only 23 percent. To keep death rates on the decline, embrace early detection.
Get a mammogram. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. Overall, it detects about 80 to 90 percent of breast cancers in women who don't have any symptoms. It is the single most effective way to find cancer early.
The ACS suggests that healthy women get yearly mammograms starting at age 40. Screening should then continue for as long as a woman is in good health and would be able to receive treatment if cancer was found.
Certain women at high risk for breast cancer should receive an MRI along with a mammogram. Talk with your doctor about adding an MRI screening to your annual mammogram.
Make breast exams routine. Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam at least every three years. Starting at age 40, it should be conducted every year. During one of these exams, your health care provider gently feels and examines your breasts for any changes or abnormalities.
Know your breasts. Become familiar with your breasts so that you can spot any changes in how they feel or look. Report any changes to your doctor right away.
Like early detection, prevention can help improve breast cancer rates.
Follow these tips to help keep breast cancer at bay:
Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity and weight gain during adulthood is linked with higher risk for breast cancer after menopause. In one study, women who had gained 55 or more pounds since age 18 had almost a 50 percent higher risk than those who had kept the same weight.
Stay active. Research has shown that women who get at least 45 minutes of vigorous physical activity five or more days a week have a lower risk for breast cancer.
Limit alcohol consumption. The more alcohol you drink, the higher your risk is for breast cancer. But even as few as three to 14 drinks per week can raise risk.
Limit menopausal hormone use. Recent and long-term use of combined estrogen and progestin menopausal hormones raises breast cancer risk. But if you and your doctor decide that hormone therapy is right for you, use the lowest dose possible for the shortest time.
Always consult your physician for more information.
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In recent years, deaths due to breast cancer have declined, likely thanks to advances in early detection. In addition to traditional mammography, several other technologies are being used to identify and diagnose breast cancer. Here are three options you may want to know about:
Digital mammography takes an X-ray of the breast. While a traditional mammogram is captured on film, digital mammography produces an electronic image that can be manipulated to provide a closer look at different areas of the breast. Like a conventional mammogram, digital mammograms are recommended every year for healthy women ages 40 or older.
Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses magnets and radio waves to create images of the breast and surrounding areas. Your doctor may recommend an annual MRI in addition to a mammogram if you've been classified as high risk. Before having this test, check with your insurance provider to make sure you are covered.
Stereotactic breast biopsy is a nonsurgical way to test an abnormality. A digital mammography machine takes X-rays from two different angles. Based on the X-rays, a computerized map allows the doctor to zone in on the location of the suspicious mass. A special needle is inserted, and tissue samples are removed and analyzed to determine whether the mass is cancerous or benign. There is little or no pain with this method, and it is less invasive than a surgical biopsy. It leaves little to no scarring, takes less than an hour, and has a quick recovery time.
You know your breast best. See your doctor right away if you notice any changes to the breast or nipple.