Young women must increase cancer awareness

Breast cancer is common among women over the age of 40, but teenage girls and women in their 20s are not immune to the life-threatening illness.

“Here at FAMU, we really do not have a high percentage of young women who visit the clinic with concerns about breast cancer,” said Monique Potter, FAMU’s health educator.

“The majority of the young ladies who visit the clinic usually receive a breast examination as part of a gynecological or physical exam. From my experience, young women do not tend to think about being diagnosed with breast cancer.”

Student health services provides flyers in dorms and a display in the clinic, informing young women on the life-threatening illness each October. They also schedule a campus visit from the American Cancer Society.

“FAMU has done a few things to raise awareness,” said Shara Senior, chair of Relay for Life. “However, FAMU could be doing more to improve awareness among students.”

Senior, 22, a senior biology student from St. Petersburg, said the FAMU clinic could provide more free services such as cancer screenings or developing an information center in the student union building.

“One of the most common questions asked by first-time visitors is whether a breast self-exam is sufficient as a mammogram,” Potter said.

A breast self-exam is not the only method for detecting breast cancer. Self-exams are used as a tool to detect any physical changes that might be cancerous.

The changes may include a new lump, swelling of the underarm, dimpled skin, nipple pain, redness or irregular discharge.

According to the Cancer Research Foundation of America, young women should start doing self-exams in their late teens after every menstrual cycle.

Since women’s breasts often feel different right before and during their periods, conducting a self-exam at the same stage of a menstrual cycle might prevent mistaking hormonal changes for potential trouble signs.

“There can be a variety of reasons why there might be changes in a woman’s breasts,” said Karen DeCardenas, a registered nurse at Tallahassee Surgical Associates.

“Only a doctor can make the diagnosis. If there are any abnormalities noticed, the next step would be to have a mammogram. Before the lump or tumor is formed, there is ‘calcification’ in the breast-small dots that are not completely hard.”

Treatments for breast cancer include surgical biopsy and mammotone, in which the cancerous tissue is removed.

When breast cancer is found and treated early, the five-year survival rate is almost 97 percent, according to the CRFA.

“Research has revealed some lifestyle changes that can lower the risk of developing breast cancer,” Lee said.

“Exercising, eating well, dropping pounds, stopping smoking, drinking moderately and being aware of environmental hazards can help prevent cancer.”

Jenya Rhone can be reached at