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Breast cancer: early detection critical to saving lives

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News from the Montana VA Health Care System

FORT HARRISON — Montana VA Health Care System encourages veterans to be proactive with breast cancer health and awareness during October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women after skin cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in women.

The sobering statistic behind breast cancer is that one in eight women will develop breast cancer and likely need treatment and surgery to survive. In Montana, with a population of 1.1 million people, this represents around 62,500 Montana women. Both men and women can develop breast cancer, though male breast cancer is rare (one in 100 men can develop breast cancer).  

“It’s painful to picture one in eight of our mothers, sisters, wives, friends, or even ourselves having to face this disease,” said Sue Calentine, Montana VA’s Women Veteran Program Manager. “Luckily, there are actions we can take to support survival rates and that is to be aware and talk about the critical role of early detection. If breast cancer is caught while it is still located only in the breast, survival rates increase to nearly 99%.”

One key health component in early detection of breast cancer is for all women to be familiar with their bodies. Many of the symptoms of early breast cancer can be seen on or felt in the breast. Any of the below symptoms should be communicated to a provider as soon as possible:

- Physical changes in the breast, such as warmth, swelling, pain, or redness. This also includes other changes in appearance, such as dimples, puckers, bulges, ridges on the skin of the breast, changes in texture, or changes in the size of either breast.

- Any change in the nipple, such as becoming inverted or if there is discharge, such as blood.

- Any presence of lumps in the breast or near the underarm.

“This month, we encourage each Montanan to each take action to honor those impacted by breast cancer and honor those we have lost by helping spread information on how to be proactive with breast cancer detection,” said Executive Director Dr. Judy Hayman. “Ask your mother, daughter, wife, family members, and friends if they are doing monthly self-exams and annual screenings. Together, we can help save lives.”

Breast care resources available through Montana VA include screening and diagnostic mammograms, breast ultrasound and MRI, genetic counseling and testing, cancer treatment, and more. VA recommends regular breast cancer screening for women who are 45 years of age and older or who have a family history of breast cancer. Women should talk with their VA primary care provider team about what is best for them and schedule their mammogram. Veterans can also contact Sue Calentine, Women Veteran Program Manager, at 406-438-1684 with questions.

Montana VA shares these screening tips for women:

1.  Women who have a family history of breast cancer should speak with their provider to understand how often to get screened.

2. Patients should share any changes they notice in their breast health with their provider as early as possible.

3. Women can reduce their risk of breast cancer by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol consumption, and not smoking.

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