Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Early detection key to survival


MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif., — Awareness ribbons have been used for generations to show support for a cause.

breast_cancerThere are colors that represent almost any cause you can think of. The more common colors are red for AIDS and HIV awareness, black for POW/MIA, blue for DUI, the jigsaw pattern representing autism and yellow to show support for our military. I think it’s safe to say most of us aboard the Combat Center wear a yellow ribbon.

What other color ribbon do you wear? As a breast cancer survivor, I also wear a pink ribbon. According to the American Cancer Society, there will be an estimated 288,130 women diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 in the United States. An estimated 39,520 will die from the disease. That’s nearly double the population of Twentynine Palms.

Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer among women, skin cancer being the most common. Breast cancer is also the second leading cancer death among women, the first being lung cancer.

Unlike the causes for skin cancer (excessive ultraviolet light) and lung cancer (smoking), there are no known direct causes of breast cancer.

How do you prevent something when you don’t know what the causes are?

You can’t, but that doesn’t make us helpless in the fight against this disease. There are several things you can do to increase your chances of survival if ever diagnosed.

The key is early detection. The first step is to know the risk factors and which factors apply to you. Know which ones you can’t control and which ones you can change.

You must know yourself. Become familiar with your body, specifically your breasts. Know what is normal for you. Know how they look and how they feel. This will enable you to identify changes that may indicate something is wrong.

Start by conducting self breast exams monthly. These can be conducted anytime during the month, but should be done at the same time each month. Anytime is a good time as long as you are doing them. And you are never too young to start doing your own exams.

Another type of exam is the clinical breast exam. This exam is similar to the self exam. However, it’s conducted by your health care provider, normally during your annual wellness check.

Mammograms are another valuable tool in detecting breast cancer.

A mammogram uses x-rays to create an image of the breast tissue. These images are used to find signs of cancer such as tumors, clusters of calcium and abnormal changes in the skin.

Mammograms should be part of your annual exam for women over the age of 40 and for those in extremely high risk categories beginning at age 30. Ensure any past images are available for comparison.

My journey began in December 2005 when I found a lump in my right breast. I would like to say I was being diligent about conducting self breast exams but I wasn’t. I just happened to feel the lump. Had I been conducting these exams, regularly, I may have found the lump even sooner.

Fortunately for me, it was still a very early stage.

This is an extremely important factor when it came time to treating the cancer.

Today, I conduct my exams regularly. In addition to the monthly exam, I ensure I get a mammogram at least every year, or more often when my doctor recommends additional screenings. Ladies, your task for today – conduct your own exam. Then create a plan for your next one. If you are over the age of 40 and haven’t had a mammogram, call to schedule one.

Gents, your task is to encourage your wife, mother, sisters, significant other and any other important women in your life to conduct their exams. And it wouldn’t hurt for you to conduct one yourself, as men can develop breast cancer also.

For additional information, call the Breast Education Office at the Robert E. Bush Naval Hospital, 830-2501; or visit the American Cancer Society’s website at http://

10/14/2011 By Diane Durden , Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

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