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October: Breast Cancer Awareness Month...

Mammograms, self exams save many women's lives

By Linda Breazeale

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Breast cancer is a leading cause of cancer death in Mississippi women, but early detection and treatment mean a better chance for survival.

"Many deaths occur each year because women do not have regular mammograms or practice thorough breast self-exams," said Linda Patterson, Pink Ribbonhealth specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. "Some breast cancer victims discover lumps that could be treated successfully, but fail to get treatment in time."

Patterson said a mammogram, or x-ray of the breast, is the most effective way to find breast changes that may be cancer, sometimes long before a lump can be felt. Projects which provide no-cost breast cancer screening for women who meet certain criteria are now available in many Mississippi locations.

During October, which is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, many mammogram facilities are likely to offer a reduced-cost mammogram. Patterson said people interested in finding a low-cost or no-cost opportunity for a mammogram should contact the American Cancer Society at 1-800-ACS-2345 or the local Extension home economist.

Several health-related organizations that work on breast cancer prevention have joined efforts to improve early detection by distributing pink postcards with education information. Member organizations have recruited and trained volunteers to teach breast self exams and tell friends about the importance of mammograms.

One goal of the Mississippi Partnership for Cancer Control is to promote the free mammograms available to women who don't get them because of cost.

"No one should put off making an appointment, and all women older than 40 should be sure to have a mammogram every year," said Freddie White-Johnson of the Deep South Network and the Partnership group. "It is so important to have yearly check-ups on time because the sooner cancer is found, the greater the chances are for survival. Self exams are also important, but the mammogram can find lumps which are too small to feel."

Even though mammograms often provide the first warning, they do not always detect breast tumors. Monthly breast self-exams performed correctly, and thorough annual exams by the doctor or nurse also can detect early changes.

Jennifer Myrick of the American Cancer Society stressed the importance of using three levels of pressure and a search pattern that covers the entire chest when practicing breast self-exam. Women can learn the best techniques for breast self-exams from American Cancer Society trained instructors.

"Women should realize that breast cancer can happen to anyone at any time, whether they are young women or older, even if there is no family history of cancer. In younger women, mammograms do not work as well for screening," Myrick said. "The woman under age 40 who has not begun regular mammograms must depend on breast self exams and regular clinical exams for early detection."

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Released: Oct. 15, 2001
For more information, contact: Linda Patterson, (662) 325-3083

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