UCF Health Services offers students vital information on breast cancer risks
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 25, 2012 11:10
College-age women are far more likely to get boob jobs than breast cancer, but learning what to look for is important. The best way to lower the risk of dying from the disease is early detection, according to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the largest breast cancer awareness organization in the United States.
About 40,000 women in the United States died from breast cancer this year, and more than 200,000 new cases were diagnosed, according to the National Cancer Institute.
“There’s so much, ‘Hey, be aware of breast cancer,’ but I don’t know what to look for, when to start or when checking for it should be a normal thing,” said Tracy Becker, 25, a third-year planetary sciences graduate student at UCF.
Becker and classmate Kelsey Hargrove, 29, said they both get yearly breast exams at the doctor’s office, but have never been given enough information to feel comfortable that they will catch breast cancer early if it develops.
Their question is the most common one asked by students seeking advice from UCF’s Health Services, said Lisa Malinowski, clinic coordinator at UCF’s Women’s Clinic.
“It’s all about breast awareness,” Malinowski said. “Become aware of what your breasts feel like, so if you feel something abnormal, you know for sure.”
Students should be looking for changes in the way their breasts look and feel. They should pay special attention to anything that feels like a pea or jelly bean under the skin and lumps that feel like they’re moving or are in only one breast.
Women also need to know their family history. Having one immediate family member such as a mother, sister or daughter with breast cancer doubles a woman’s risk of getting the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.
UCF Health Services recommends annual breast exams to all female students, beginning in their freshman years. They can schedule an exam, free of charge. UCF Health Services also has information from Susan G. Komen for the Cure about mammograms, breast self-awareness, the steps to breast self-examination and information for men. Although the risk of getting breast cancer is much lower in men, it does happen. About 2,000 men were diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States this year, according to NCI.
“It can be confusing, because breasts, in general, can be very lumpy,” Malinowski said. “Just come in, we’ll check it out; that’s what we’re here for. Even if you don’t think it’s serious, come in.”
Breast cancer in college students is rare, but benign lumps and cysts are common and can cause anxiety for women. Noncancerous lumps can be affected by hormones, often coming and going with menstrual cycles, or dietary factors such as high caffeine intake, Malinowski said.
The first steps taken at Health Services when a student comes in worried about a lump are a breast exam and ultrasound if needed. Ultrasounds can pick up on many cysts and cancerous masses, said Susanna Bryan, clinic nurse manager at Health Services. If the lump needs further evaluation, a student will then be sent to a breast specialist off campus for a mammogram, which is an X-ray for the breasts.
“We take into consideration the stress and fear they’re going through, so even though it’s probably not an emergency, we try to work them in the same day,” Bryan said.
Bryan is a breast cancer survivor who was diagnosed in 2003 at 38 years old, two years before the NCI’s recommended age to begin regular mammography screenings.
“I was really shocked when he brought me in and said, ‘You have cancer,’” Bryan, 47, said of when she visited the doctor for a mammogram.
Bryan had been getting mammograms every year since she was 30, because she regularly developed cysts in her breasts. When she felt a large lump in her right breast, she thought it was just another cyst, but scheduled a mammogram just in case.
“The first thing to come out of my mouth was, ‘Who’s going to take care of my kids?’” Bryan said.
She had her right breast removed and underwent chemotherapy right away. Six months after her diagnosis, there was no sign of the cancer.
“I would tell students to check at least once a month in the shower and don’t ignore if they feel anything,” Bryan said. “Don’t think like I did, ‘Oh, it’s probably a cyst or whatever.’ Have it checked for peace of mind. Even though it’s rare, we still have young people who get it.“