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Breast cancer is the focus for October

Posted 10/7/2010   Updated 10/7/2010 Email story   Print story


by Sarah Olaciregui
66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

10/7/2010 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass.  -- Pink is taking over orange as the top color choice in October. NFL players wear pink gloves, shoes and arm bands. Celebrities get their pictures taken wearing pink as they attend fundraisers. People walking down the street have on pink ribbons. Pink has been designated as the color to represent breast cancer awareness and October is designated as breast cancer awareness month.

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer. The chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer some time during her life is a little less than one in eight. The chance of dying from breast cancer is about one in 35. Although breast cancer death rates have been going down, it is probably the result of finding the cancer earlier and better treatments. Right now there are more than 2½ million breast cancer survivors in the United States.

"Early detection is key," said Lt. Col. Melissa Wells, the women's health nurse practitioner at the 66th Medical Squadron. "Women seem to care for everyone but themselves, but it's important for them to just take a moment to care for their own health care needs."

Breast cancer screening is important since cancer can be identified before any signs or symptoms appear. Treatment for breast cancer is more likely to work well when the disease is found in the early stage. There are three tests that may be used to screen for breast cancer: mammogram, clinical breast exam by a healthcare provider and self breast exam.

"I personally encourage women to do a monthly self breast exam and to have an annual clinical breast exam by a provider," said Colonel Wells.

A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast and is recommended every one to two years for women 40 years and older. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, it is the best method to detect breast cancer early and has been found to lower the risk of dying from breast cancer.

Certain risk factors increase the likelihood of developing breast cancer. These include older age, never giving birth or being older at the birth of the first child, never breastfeeding, younger age at start of menstrual cycle or older age at start of menopause, personal or family history of breast cancer which includes a mother, sister or daughter, being overweight or not getting regular exercise, long-term use of hormone replacement therapy and drinking more than one alcoholic drink per day. Having any of these risk factors does not mean that one will develop breast cancer. However, it is important to discuss any risk factors with a health care provider and discuss ways to lower risk.

"Women should think about decreasing their daily fat intake, increasing consumption of fiber, eating more fruits and vegetables, staying active and not smoking," according to Colonel Wells. "This not only decreases the likelihood of developing breast cancer, but it helps a person stay healthy overall."

There are many resources around the Hanscom area to help women get and stay healthy.

For those patients that have a primary care provider at the Hanscom Clinic, a clinical breast exam can be accomplished as part of a well-women exam at which time a health care provider may recommend a mammogram at a network facility. The 66th Medical Squadron does not have mammogram capability.

For the 66th Medical Squadron enrollees in TRICARE Prime that are age 40 or older and have had at least one year since the last mammogram, they can self-refer for a mammogram at one of the following network facilities: Lahey Clinic at 781-744-8000 with locations in Burlington, Peabody or Lexington; Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at 781-672-2010 with a location in Lexington; Emerson Hospital at 978-287-8107 with locations in Concord or Westford; and Nashoba Valley Medical Center at 978-784-9270 with a location in Ayer.

"There is a robust network of medical care in the Boston area that can meet all women's health care needs," said Colonel Wells. "Referrals to see a specialist can be obtained if needed."

Patients are also encouraged to schedule a provider appointment prior to a mammogram appointment for those that have the following: new breast lump or breast changes, breast implants, history of breast cancer, any breast surgery or procedures since the last mammogram.

For assistance with mammogram referrals or questions on breast cancer awareness, contact Florence Cruz, 66th Medical Squadron women's health coordinator and patient educator at 781-377-2394 or Lt. Col. Linda Cassavoy, health care integrator, at 781-377-3049.

Other resources available to everyone on base include the Health and Wellness Center (HAWC). Personnel can pick up brochures or talk to someone about diet, nutrition or fitness. Contact the HAWC at 781-377-6560.

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