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Help fight breast cancer locally
Health advice
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You may have already read the story on the Coastal Courier’s Sunday front page about the theft of Team Suzie Q’s “blingy bras,” but if you didn’t, please do. The decorated bras were part of a fundraiser for the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s Race for the Cure. We should all give some thought to how we can participate in local preventive-health education programs on breast cancer. Liberty County has participated in other fundraisers for the Komen Foundation and has been fortunate to receive grants from the organization in past years.
Team Suzie Q has taken fundraising to a new level. Not only have members been holding raffles, dinners and specialty sales parties, they’ve also been forming new friendships while walking to get in shape for the big race. Organizers Deidre Howell and Leah Poole have done such a good job mixing health education in with laughter and fundraising events that members really look forward to the group’s weekly activities. If you are interested in joining Team Suzie Q at the April 17 Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Savannah, register at http:/
There is a very good reason for the Komen Foundation fundraisers. Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in the United States and is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women ages 40- 59. Unfortunately, nearly 200,000 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer this year and approximately 40,000 women will die from the disease. Around 1,990 new cases of breast cancer are expected to be found in men this year. Yes, men get breast cancer, too, and more than 400 men will die from it in 2010. For every one man diagnosed with breast cancer, there are 100 women diagnosed.
In the United States, white women get breast cancer most often, followed by black women, Asian women and Pacific Islanders, Hispanic women and Native American women. However, black women are most likely to die from breast cancer, followed by white women, Hispanic women, Native American women, Asian women and Pacific Islander women.
Like most other cancers, breast cancer is an uncontrolled growth of cells that has the potential to break through normal breast tissue barriers and spread to other parts of the body. While cancer is always caused by a genetic abnormality (a “mistake” in a person’s genetic material), only 5–10 percent of cancers are inherited from parents. Instead, 90 percent of breast cancers are due to genetic abnormalities that happen as a result of the aging process and life in general. This can include risk factors that occur from lifestyle choices.
Breast cancer takes years to develop. Most of the time, it causes no symptoms in the beginning. When detected in the localized stage, before it spreads to lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 98 percent. If the cancer has spread regionally to underarm lymph nodes, the rate drops to 81 percent. And if the abnormal growth has spread to other organs such as the lungs, bone marrow, liver or brain, the five-year survival rate is 26 percent.
In addition to yearly physician, clinical and monthly self-examinations, mammograms (x-ray examinations of the breast) are used as preventative health measures. The goal of screening mammography is to detect cancer when it is still too small to be felt by a woman or her physician. Early detection of small breast cancers by screening mammography greatly improves chances for successful treatment. Early detection is crucial for a cure since there is currently no known way to prevent or eradicate breast cancer.
Possible signs of breast cancer include:
• an immobile lump in the breast or under the arm
• new pain in one spot that doesn’t go away or tenderness, discomfort or a “pulling sensation”
• breast skin is dimpled or puckered
• discharge from the nipple that starts suddenly
• change in the shape or size of the breast or swelling of the skin that covers it with warmth, redness or darkening
• breast tissue may feel thicker, even though there is no lump pain or redness of the skin
• sore or retracted nipple
• sores on the nipples or breast that do not clear up after two weeks of treatment. It is also important to tell a doctor about scaly skin on the nipple and any change in breast veins.
A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of getting a disease. But identifying one or many factors doesn’t mean a person will get the disease. Some women who develop breast cancer had no known risk factors. Approximately 70 to 80 percent of women with breast cancer have none of the known risk factors. So, the only true line of defense is to learn how to give yourself monthly breast self-exams and visit your gynecologist annually.
For additional information on breast cancer or the “Race for the Cure,” go to And don’t forget to find out how you can participate in local Team Suzie Q activities. You’ll be so glad you did.

Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.
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