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Know the Facts About Breast Cancer
by Dawn M. Oakley

Ms. Oakley is Guam's 5 A Day Coordinator and a nutritionist with the Department of Public Health and Social Services. She is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and has a master's degree in public health nutrition

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, aside from skin cancer. Of cancer related deaths in the last 5 years, breast cancer remains the 2nd leading cause of deaths among Guam's women. From 1971, 119 of our women ranging in age from 25 to 70 years old, succumbed to breast cancer. This year it is estimated that 12 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed among Guam's women, and 6 women will die of this disease. (Source: Department of Public Health & Social Services).

"Cancer is a group of diseases that occur when cells become abnormal and divide without control or order. Each organ in the body is made up of various kinds of cells. Cells normally divide in an orderly way to produce more cells only when they are needed. This process helps keep the body healthy. If cells divide when new cells are not needed, they form too much tissue. This extra tissue, called a tumor, can be benign or malignant. Eighty percent of all breast tumors are benign. Benign breast tumors are not a threat to life." (NBCAM, 2000 Promotion Guide)

Understanding the most common risk factors can help a women plan a course of action that may reduce her chances of ever getting the disease or, at least, to detect it in its earlier, most treatable stages. The most common risk factors are age, personal history and family history. More than 80 percent of breast cancers occur in women age 50 and older. If a women has had breast cancer or a history of breast disease than she may develop it again. Women who have a mother, sister, daughter, or two or more close relatives that have had the disease are at greater risk for getting breast cancer. Every women should know at what age her family member was diagnosed.

Estrogen plays a key role in breast cancer - estrogen does not necessarily cause breast cancer, however, it may stimulate the growth of cancer cells. The following risk factors are estrogen related: having an early first period (before the age of 12), having a first pregnancy after age 25 or 30, and having no children. The more menstrual cycles a woman has over her lifetime, the more likely she is to get the disease.

Lifestyle can play an important role that may affect a women's breast cancer risk. Not only may lifestyle choices reduce risk, but they may also help prevent heart disease, diabetes, and many other chronic, life-threatening conditions. Lifestyle choices include:

Decrease your daily fat intake. This is especially true of saturated fats and hydrogenated fats. Eat leaner meats and limit red meat. Bake, broil, or boil foods instead of frying. Trim and drain the fat when preparing foods. Remove skin from poultry. Eat fewer of these foods: fatty meats, mayonnaise, sauces, butter or margarine, ice cream, cheese, potato chips, processed meats (spam and corn beef), and donuts and cakes. Be careful of hidden fats found in foods like chips, lumpia & other fried foods, coconut milk and pancit.

Increase fiber in your diet. Fiber is found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans and legumes. Fiber is the part of plant foods that is indigestible.

Eat fresh fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are full of many essential vitamins and minerals, fiber, and have many antioxidant properties and micronutrients that help protect our healthy cells from damage caused by free radicals.

Limit alcohol. Evidence suggest that there is a small increase in risk for women who average two or more drinks a day.

Stay active. This can not be emphasized enough! The U.S. Surgeon General reported, "that you can help prevent many health problems by engaging in a moderate amount of physical activity (such as taking a brisk, 30 minute walk) on most days of the week." Excess body fat may stimulate estrogen production, therefore, it is important to maintain a reasonable body weight recommended by a health professional.

Don't smoke. Smoking does not cause breast cancer, however, it can increase the chance of blood clots, heart disease, and other cancers that may spread to the breast.

It is important to know the facts about breast cancer - it is a reality and could change your life! For more information, please call the DPHSS, General Nutrition Services at 475-0284 or visit the American Cancer Society website.


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