In the first 10 months of 2009, more than 190,000 new cases of breast cancer have been diagnosed in women across the nation and there have been over 40,000 deaths attributed to the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI.) More than 3,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in Louisiana each year, with approximately 20 percent of new cases turning to Ochsner Health System for help.
But women aren’t alone when it comes to breast cancer risk.
While dwarfed by the number of female cases, over 1,900 men have been diagnosed this year, and 400 men have succumbed to breast cancer. Men with several female relatives who have been diagnosed with breast cancer are at a higher risk of developing it themselves, especially if the women share a mutation of the BRCA2 gene, according to the NCI. Exposure to radiation and high levels of estrogen from diseases like cirrhosis can also lead to male breast cancer, which usually results in lumps that can be felt during a self examination. Most cases occur in men between the ages of 60 and 70 years old and can be fatal if ignored.
Survival rates among men and women diagnosed with breast cancer are comparable, with early detection in either case being a key factor to survival, according to the NCI. Advances in breast cancer detection and treatment are helping more people survive the disease each year.
“The good news is the number of women being diagnosed with cancer and the number of women dying from breast cancer nationally have actually decreased,” said Dr. Jay Brooks, chair of the department of Hematology and Oncology at Ochsner Medical Center - Baton Rouge. “It’s really a major achievement.” The number of women being diagnosed has dropped significantly in the last five years, Brooks said, mainly due to changes in the way doctors treat the symptoms of menopause. “Women have stopped taking the combined estrogen and progesterone pills for menopause,” he said. “That has resulted in about a 15 percent decline in the number of new cases of breast cancer in the United States.”
“We’re diagnosing women early where we can effectively treat them at a much earlier stage,” Brooks said. “Early treatment and diagnosis of breast cancer has decreased the number of women actually dying from the disease.”
The growing use of digital mammography technology has reduced the number of new cases by an additional 10 percent. To learn more about the specifics of Digital Mammography, click here.
Brooks said the Ochsner system provides a full range of services to help women at all stages of breast cancer. “We provide diagnosis with digital mammography and MRI of the breast where that would be helpful,” he said. “We provide the full compliment of medical oncology, surgical oncology, radiation oncology and genetic counseling for women who have genetic alterations that may increase their chances of developing breast cancer.” Ochsner treats more cancer than anyone in Louisiana. All of these services combine to help give local patients the best chance of survival, Brooks said.
To schedule a mammogram or a breast health screening, click here to find-a-doctor near you.