State Health Commissioner Urges Women to Get Screened for Breast Cancer

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

ALBANY, N.Y. (October 6, 2010) - In recognition of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., is encouraging all women to talk to their health care providers about breast cancer screening and their personal risk for the disease.

"Great strides have been made in early detection and treatment of breast cancer, and many women diagnosed with the disease are living long, healthy lives," Commissioner Daines said. "During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we urge women to consult with their health care providers to learn more about the disease, discuss their fears and concerns, and develop an appropriate plan for breast cancer screening. When coupled with new treatment options, early stage diagnosis through mammography screening can significantly improve a woman's chance of survival."

It is highly recommended that women between 50 and 74 years of age get a mammogram every two years. Other women, including women who are between 40- and 49-years-old, or those with a family history or other risk factor for breast cancer, or who have any symptoms or changes in their breasts, should talk to their doctor about what screening schedule is right for them.

Recommendations for when a woman should begin breast cancer screening, and how often a woman should be screened may differ among organizations.

"Regardless of these differences, each woman should be aware of her personal risk for breast cancer and decide, with her doctor, when and how she should be screened for breast cancer," Commissioner Daines said.

Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women in New York State. (Lung cancer is the leading cause of death.) On average, more than 14,000 women in New York are newly diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and more than 2,800 women die annually from the disease.

Although the causes of breast cancer are still unknown, the following factors may increase a woman's risk for the disease:

  • Advancing age;
  • Having a first menstrual period at a young age;
  • Starting menopause at an older age;
  • Never giving birth or having delayed giving birth to a first child until age 30 or older;
  • Not breastfeeding;
  • Having a personal or family history (on the mother's or father's side) of breast cancer, especially early (pre-menopausal) breast cancer;
  • Having certain gene mutations such as BRCA 1 or BRCA 2;
  • Being overweight or obese;
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages (The level of risk rises as the amount of alcohol consumed rises.);
  • Being sedentary;
  • Having a history of radiation exposure to the chest; or
  • Taking hormone replacement therapy for an extended period of time.

Even if a woman has one or more of the risk factors for breast cancer, it does not mean she will be diagnosed with the disease. Conversely, many women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have any risk factors or unusual symptoms, which illustrates why screening is important for all women. Those who do have a personal or family history of breast cancer may want to consider genetic counseling to determine if they are at greater risk for developing the disease.

Although research on the causes of breast cancer is ongoing, there are many ways to improve outcomes related to cancer. These include not smoking and avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke, making healthy food choices, getting regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and, specifically for women, breastfeeding their infants and getting recommended cancer screenings.

The New York State Breast Cancer Research and Education Fund administers scientific and educational research focused on the causes, prevention, treatment and cure of breast cancer The Fund has invested in nearly 90 breast cancer research projects using support received through the income tax check-off option, Drive for the Cure NYS License Plates, and direct contributions. For more information about the Fund and breast cancer scientific and education research projects, visit http://www.wadsworth.org/extramural/breastcancer.

New York State also funds Cancer Services Program Partnerships to provide access to breast cancer screening to uninsured women who are 40 years of age or older. To find a Cancer Services Program Partnership in your community, or to locate a genetic counselor, legal services and breast cancer support programs, call 1-866-442-CANCER (2262) or visit http://www.health.ny.gov/nysdoh/cancer/center/partnerships/.

For additional information about breast cancer, including prevention, diagnosis and treatment visit http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/index.htm.