Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers diagnosed in women worldwide. In the state of North Carolina, it is estimated that 23 deaths per 100,000 women occurred in 2014 due to breast cancer. Unfortunately, breast cancer deaths are 41 percent more likely to occur in African-American women.
Cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells in the body grow out of control. Cancers are named after the part of the body where the abnormal cell growth begins. Breast cancers are cancer cells from the breast. When breast cancer cells spread to other parts of the body, they are called metastases. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths for women in North Carolina.
Each year over 6,000 NC women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and over 1,000 will die from the disease. Women in North Carolina have a one-in-eight lifetime risk of developing breast cancer.
Different people have different warning signs for breast cancer. Some people do not have any signs or symptoms at all. A person may find out they have breast cancer after a routine mammogram. Some warning signs of breast cancer are: A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area—50 percent of such masses are found in the upper outer quarter of the breast, a change in the size or shape of the breast, an abnormal discharge from the nipple, a change in the color, feel, or texture of the skin of the breast, areola, or nipple (dimpled, puckered, or scaly). Keep in mind that some of these warning signs can happen with other conditions that are not cancer. If you have any signs that worry you, be sure to see your provider right away.
Many question why there continues to be a breast cancer health disparity among African American women. The Susan G. Komen foundation proposes a few possible hypotheses: 1) genetic or biologic differences in tumors of the breast, (2) prevalence of risk factors, (3) barriers to health care access, (3) health behaviors, and (4) later stages of breast cancer at time of diagnosis. Although African American women have a higher mortality rate of breast cancer, Caucasian women have a higher incidence rate of a breast cancer.
Breast cancer can happen to anyone regardless of age, race, gender, or socioeconomic status. This is why early detection is important in treating breast cancer. A three-part action plan is ideal for women ages 40 and older: (1) Get your annual mammogram, (2) Schedule your Clinical Breast Exam annually, and (3) Perform Self Breast Exams at least monthly. Women ages 20 to 39 should have clinical breast exams at least every three years with their provider and perform self-breast exams monthly. Women ages 40 and older should get annual clinical breast exams along with annual mammograms.
When cancer starts in the cervix, it is called cervical cancer. The cervix is the lower, narrow end of the uterus. Also known as the womb, the uterus is where a baby grows when a woman is pregnant. The cervix connects the upper part of the uterus to the vagina (birth canal). Each year more than 350 North Carolina women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and over 100 die from the condition.
The majority of these deaths occur in women over age 45. Pap tests don’t just detect cancer, they aid in cancer prevention by identifying any changes at an early stage. A pap test (or pap smear) looks for cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated. The Pap test is recommended for most women between the ages of 21-65, and can be done in a doctor’s office or clinic. Some warning signs of cervical cancer are: Abnormal vaginal bleeding, increased vaginal discharge, pelvic pain, and pain during sexual intercourse.
Most cervical cancer can be prevented. One way to prevent pre-cancers is to avoid risk factors. Young women can delay starting to have sex until they are older. Women of all ages can protect against HPV by having few sexual partners and not having sex with people who have had many partners.
The HPV vaccine also helps prevent disease. Another way is to make sure you get your Pap Test done as recommended. Most deaths from cervical cancer can be avoided if women have regular, routine Pap testing. The Pap test is a quick and simple, generally painless test that can detect abnormal cells and changes in the cervix and is done at your provider’s office during a pelvic exam. Women should begin having Pap tests after they reach age 21 and are screened once every 3-5 years. Women should talk to their doctor about when to begin having Pap tests, how often to have them and when to stop having them. Changes and early cancers of the cervix generally do not cause pain or other symptoms. Only a doctor can tell for sure.
At Sampson County Health Department, the Breast and Cervical Cancer Control & Prevention (BCCCP) program is available to women who are uninsured, under-insured, have a household income < 250% of the federal poverty level, and are between the ages of 40-64 for breast screening services or between 21—64 for cervical screening services. Through BCCCP, a woman may be eligible for a free clinical breast exam, cervical cancer screening, and/or a screening mammogram, and necessary follow-up as may be needed.
Sampson County Health Department, in conjunction with the NC BCCCP program, now offers the NC WISEWOMAN program to eligible women residing in Sampson County. This program allows women who are BCCCP clients to be screened for cardiovascular disease and other chronic illnesses. Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in women in the United States.
Through the WISEWOMAN program, a woman is provided the following services: heart disease risk factor testing, blood pressure measurements, cholesterol and blood sugar testing, height, weight, and BMI measurements, lifestyle interventions, and referrals to health care providers. Health coaching is available to women enrolled in the WISEWOMAN program to include: education on nutrition, physical activity, and lifestyle changes to improve one’s health and prevent, delay, or control chronic diseases.
If you would like more information on the BCCCP or WISEWOMAN programs offered at Sampson County Health Department, please contact Emily Spell, RN at 910-592-1131, ext. 4214. To schedule an appointment, please call the Sampson County Health Department at 910-592-1131, ext. 4001, 4220 or 4960.