The Best Defense | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

The Best Defense

When it comes to supporting breast-cancer research, even professional football players are getting in on the act. If you're a fan, no doubt you've seen all the pink out there on the field.

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (@LarryFitzgerald), whose mother, Carol, passed away from the disease in 2003, is going the extra mile for the cause: He has promised to donate $1,000 per catch, $10,000 per touchdown and 10 cents for every new Twitter follower he gets in October. Last year, he donated $33,000.

Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams' mother, Sandra, is a breast cancer survivor, but he lost four aunts to breast cancer. Williams was instrumental in getting the NFL on board with the pink awareness campaign. "I had a lady stop me and said just because of what I saw during the game, meaning the color, (she) was going to get examined," he told The Herald in South Carolina.

We'd like not to present you with a bunch of scary statistics, but statistics paint a picture of where we are right now, and help us pave the way toward a cancer-free future.

Fear of breast cancer is not your friend. If you're afraid of developing cancer, your best defense is (at the risk of using a cliché) a good offense. In other words, understand the risks and know your options.

And by all means, get professional medical advice regarding breast cancer or any health-related condition. This article (or any article) is not meant to be a replacement for your doctor's recommendations.

1 Know Your Risk
Having risk factors doesn't mean you'll get breast cancer, but it can help you determine a course of action. Breast cancer risks include:

• Age: The risk increases after about age 50, or menopause, and continues to rise through age 70. Other age-related risks include:

• Early onset of puberty, before age 12.

• Late menopause, after age 55.

• Late first full-term pregnancy, after age 30, or no full-term pregnancies.

• Genetics: Experts estimate that about 5 percent to 10 percent of breast cancers stem from genetic mutations:
• If you have a family history of breast cancer, especially in a mother, sister, daughter, father or brother (yes, men can get it, too), your risk is about 1.8 times higher than those who don't. The risk increases with the number of first-degree relatives diagnosed; with three or more relatives, your risk is four times higher than the general population.

• Personal history of breast cancer or certain other cancers.

• Obesity, especially after menopause.

• Recent hormone replacement therapy or recent oral contraceptive use.

2 Know the Warning Signs
Not every symptom is a sure sign of breast cancer; some symptoms can happen with other conditions including completely benign cysts. If you have signs that worry you, see your doctor as soon as possible.

• A new lump in the breast or underarm

• Thickening or swelling of part of the breast

• Irritation or dimpling of breast skin

• Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast

• Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area

• Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood

• Any change in the size or shape of the breast

• Pain in any area of the breast

3 Screen and Prevent
Get to know your breasts and what's normal for you and your cycle. Dr. Susan Love, author of "Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book," advises: "Just be comfortable and be aware of your body, and if you feel something that feels abnormal, get it checked out. ... If there's something that's funny, and if the doctor doesn't want to pursue it, then get another doctor."

• Get screened regularly. Talk with your doctor about the best types of screening given your risk factors. Early cancers respond much better to treatment than those diagnosed late.

• Control your weight and exercise. Learn how to eat healthy and stay active.

• Know your family history. See No. 1.

• If you are post-menopausal, find out the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy.

• Limit your alcohol intake.

4 Find Out More
The amount of good information on the Internet is amazing. Here are a few of the expert resources used in this article, which represents only a small amount of the data available to you.

• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov) have numerous pages dedicated to breast cancer, accessible through a quick search.

• Breastcancer.org features comprehensive, easily digested information on everything from risk to managing your medical records.

• The American Cancer Society (http://www.cancer.org) provides a comprehensive "Breast Cancer Overview" document on its site, and, just for data wonks, has released a new study, "Breast Cancer Facts & Figures, 2011-2012," available as a PDF from the website.

• Mississippi State Department of Health (http://www.msdh.ms.gov) provides information specifically for state residents and health-care providers. Find out the department's programs for low-income women here, including Medicaid and Medicare assistance.

• Kaiser State Health Facts (http://www.statehealthfacts.org) provides some of the most recent statistics and demographics on breast cancer and a host of other health issues, conveniently sorted by state.

• Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation (http://www.dslrf.org). Love is a physician and researcher in breast health and issues of aging women. Health-care providers consider "Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book" (Da Capo Press; 5th edition, 2010, $22) the bible of breast-health books.

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