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While our country is painted pink for breast cancer awareness in October, we had an April pink sighting in Houston last week. The eighth annual Sisters Network Stop the Silence Walk/Run brought awareness to a continuing concern about breast cancer in the African-American community. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, no matter what their race or ethnicity. It is the second leading cause of cancer death for several ethnicities, including African-American women. It is the most common cause of cancer death for Hispanic women.

The abnormal growth of cells in the body can strike practically any organ system. When the cells have problems with their growth patterns, cancer can occur. Breast cancer is when there is abnormal growth of cells in the breast tissue. As many in our families and communities are touched with breast cancer, we must strive to bring awareness to this disease. We can do this in three main ways: look, listen, and lower risk. 

Look: Look at your body. You are with your body every day. A doctor may only see your body once per year, at an annual medical visit, so it is important to perform your own self check and alert the doctor to anything that looks or feels abnormal to you. Do the breast self-examination at least once per month. If you see anything that looks questionable, or even if you are not sure, contact your doctor for an appointment. Often, with breast cancer, as with some other diseases, there are signs that you may be able to see. For example, dimpling of the breast skin, redness, and discharge from the nipples can be some of the signs of breast cancer. However there are times when these signs are not detected on self-examination, and mammograms become necessary to further determine if there is an abnormality in the breast tissue. 

Listen: Listen to the recommendations of your physician, and of the American Cancer Society, who say that, women 40 years of age and older should begin having breast cancer screenings. Annual mammograms (“breast x-rays”) usually begin around 45years of age, but can be done every two years in women older than 55. However, in women with a mother who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, those screenings should begin much sooner. This information should be shared with your doctor, so they can make the determination of which screening tests you should have and when you should have them. 

Lower risk: There are some lifestyle changes we can all make to reduce our overall cancer risk. These include saying no to tobacco, limiting alcoholic beverages, and getting plenty of exercise. Diets high in fresh fruits and vegetables can fuel the body with phytonutrients that create a healthy atmosphere for the cells in our body to live and thrive normally. Maintaining a healthy weight can also help can also help with reducing cancer risk. 

Be proactive in the fight against breast cancer. Schedule a doctor’s visit and get an order to get a mammogram. Remember to look, listen, and lower your risk of breast cancer every day. 

By: Lorraine E. McKinney, D. P.M.