October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

By Capt. Cindy L. Craddock
Element Leader, Women's Health Clinic

In the month of October, you may see more women wearing pink ribbons and pink clothing. This is because October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Last year, the National Breast Cancer Awareness Organization celebrated its 25th anniversary of breast cancer awareness and empowerment for women, but there remains much to be done.

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in American women (skin cancer being the most common). It is estimated that about 200,000 cases of invasive breast cancer is diagnosed per year; however, in the past 7 years the breast cancer incidence rate has decreased by about 2 percent and death rates has been decreasing since 1990. These decreases are thought to be a direct result from early detection, improved treatment and increased awareness. Today there are more than 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.

Breast cancer strikes about 1 in 8 or approximately 12 percent of women. Simply being a woman is the greatest risk factor; however, it can affect both women and men. Although there is no absolute way to prevent breast cancer, there are some things you can do to help reduce your risks including: limiting your alcohol, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, choosing to breastfeed your children, and avoiding the use of hormone replacement therapy. Besides these few lifestyle modifications, early detection is key! Screening exams, such as a mammogram, are intended to find breast cancer before a person ever feels a lump. This is important because the survival rate of breast cancer can depend on the size of the tumor and how far it has spread. If cancer is diagnosed in the earliest, localized stage, the five year survival rate is close to 100 percent.

Numerous organizations have different screening recommendations for women at the average risk for breast cancer. The U.S Preventive Services Task Force recently updated their guidelines and recommends biennial mammography for women ages 50 to 74. Despite this change, the 75th Medical Group will continue to follow The American Cancer Society guidelines, which recommends women age 40 and older have a mammogram every year and continue to do so for as long as they are in good health.

The use of screening mammograms has increased the number of cancers found before a person experiences symptoms -- but some breast cancers are not found by mammography. The most common sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass; these are often painless and firm, but may also be soft and tender. Other possible signs of breast cancer include: skin irritation or dimpling, nipple retraction or discharge or breast pain. If you have any signs or symptoms that might be due to breast cancer, be sure to see your health care provider as soon as possible.

All female TriCare beneficiaries older than age 39 are entitled to one mammogram every 12 months.

You are not required to pay any portion of the cost of your mammogram, and do not need a referral or prior authorization; simply make your appointment with a network provider. Remember ... next time you see someone wearing the color pink, think breast cancer awareness!

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