October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month in Illinois. Activities to make women more aware of this disease and the methods of early detection that can help save lives are planned for around the state.

Today, one out of every eight American women will develop breast cancer sometime during her life. More than 40,000 women in the United States will die this year from the disease; more than 2,000 of them will be from Illinois.

Realizing that there is a possibility she may develop breast cancer is a woman's first step toward taking control of her health. The facts are--

  • All women are at risk of breast cancer, regardless of age, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
  • There is no way to prevent breast cancer.
  • Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in Illinois women.
  • African-American women die from breast cancer at a higher rate than women of any other race.
  • Minority women tend to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage of breast cancer.

Early detection could save many of the lives lost to breast cancer each year. Currently, only about 9 percent of breast cancers in Illinois are detected at the earliest and most curable stage. The five-year survival rate for these women is approximately 96 percent. Increasing the number of women who are diagnosed at this stage by just 6 percent would save the lives of 400 Illinois women each year.

Early detection depends on women following these guidelines:

  • Starting at 20 years of age, a woman should practice monthly breast self-examinations.
  • A woman should have a clinical breast examination done by a health professional at least once a year.
  • Women 40 years of age and older should have a screening mammogram every year.
  • If a change occurs (such as development of a lump or swelling, skin irritation or dimpling, nipple pain or retraction (turning inward), redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin, or a discharge other than breast milk), a health care provider should be contacted as soon as possible for evaluation.

Most of the time breast changes are not cancer. Experienced health care professionals can examine the breast and determine whether additional tests are necessary to rule out cancer.

The use of mammography, clinical breast examination and breast self-examination offer women the best opportunity for reducing the breast cancer rate through early detection.

Risk Factors

While the cause of breast cancer remains unclear, several conditions have been linked to its development.

  • Simply being a woman is the main risk factor for developing breast cancer.
  • A woman can develop this disease at any point in her life, but the risk of developing breast cancer rises significantly as she ages. Women 65 years of age and older are twice as likely to develop breast cancer as women between the ages of 40 and 64.
  • Most women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease. While it is true that the risk is greater if a woman's mother, grandmother or sister has had breast cancer, it is also true that 80 percent of the women who get breast cancer have no family history of the disease.
  • A woman's reproductive history also has been linked with a greater incidence of breast cancer. Women who menstruated at an early age, had their first child late in life or did not have children, or experience menopause at a late age seem to have an increased risk for developing breast cancer.

There is no certain way to prevent breast cancer. For now, the best plan for women is to follow the guidelines for early detection as outlined above. These guidelines can help find cancers when the likelihood of successful treatment is greatest.

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Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
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