October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

By Geoff Currier of the Martha's Vineyard Times

October 24, 2018

One in eight women in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s the most common cancer in women, and the second leading cause of death after skin cancer. While these statistics may seem daunting, there is evidence that trends are actually improving, and efforts like National Breast Cancer Awareness Month are helping.

“Here at the hospital,” said Natasha Hartman, supervisor for mammography at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, “awareness month is every month; we’re glad that there’s more attention brought to it this month.”

And the more attention and the more education about breast cancer there is, the more we can do to improve outcomes. There’s been a gradual reduction in breast cancer among women since around 1990, and while some of that is due to better treatment options, it’s also due to increased awareness, which leads to early detection.

“The goal is early detection,” said Hartman, “you want to find the breast cancer in the early stages, which requires three things — self-examination, an examination by a healthcare provider, and a mammogram.”

The National Breast Cancer Foundation recommends that all adult women perform breast self-exams at least once a month. According to nationalbreastcancer.org, “Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.”

“We recommend that you should talk to your healthcare provider once a year,” said Hartman. And if you do find a lump, the Cancer Foundation claims, you don’t need to panic — eight out of 10 lumps are not cancerous.

“The risk factors,” said Hartman, “begin with being female, but men can get breast cancer as well. And they actually have a higher mortality rate because it’s usually not detected early, because men just assume they don’t have [breast cancer].”

The warning signs for breast cancer include a new lump on the breast or under the arm; thickening or swelling of the breast; dimpling of the breast skin (like the skin on an orange); redness in the nipple area; nipple discharge other than breast milk, and change in the size or shape of the breast.

“Here at the hospital,” said Hartman, “we do breast ultrasounds, and diagnostic mammograms, and the equipment is the same as that at Mass General, and the images are read by MGH radiologists who are specialized in breast imaging.

“Working together with MGH, we aim to provide breast biopsies by 2019 with members of the MGH team actually here on the Island,” said Hartman, “so Islanders won’t have to make the trip all the way up to Boston.”