october breast cancer awareness ribbon

Breast Cancer Awareness Month is the Time to Take Charge

From NFL fields to office break rooms, October will once again be filled with pink ribbons, frequent reminders and well-publicized initiatives to raise awareness of breast cancer — and for good reason. After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in American women. Even though death rates have been decreasing since 1989, this disease still has the highest death rate of any cancer for women. It’s estimated that more than 268,000 new cases will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year alone. And nearly 42,000 women will die.

“Detecting a breast cancer by screening mammogram, before symptoms are noticed, can improve one’s odds of surviving the cancer by 30% or more,” says Tara L. Grahovac, M.D., breast surgeon with Budway Surgical Associates, a division of St. Clair Medical Services. “Encourage friends and family over the age of 40 to have a yearly mammogram,” Dr. Grahovac continues. “All women, even younger than 40, can open a discussion about their own risk. Your doctor may recognize high risk features that warrant starting mammograms at an earlier age, breast MRI or genetic testing.”

Now is the time to learn more about this disease, what you can do to help prevent it, and the steps you can take to catch it early enough to improve your odds.

Risk Factors

As with many diseases, genetics do play a role in your risk for developing breast cancer. You may have heard of BRCA 1 and BRCA2. These are inherited gene mutations linked to an increased incidence of the disease. Having a mother, sister or daughter who’s been diagnosed with breast cancer, especially at a young age, nearly doubles your risk.

However, most cases occur in women who have no family history of the disease. These factors have been shown to increase your risk:

  • Age — Your risk increases as you get older
  • Radiation treatments to the chest as a child or young adult
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Onset of your period before age 12
  • Onset of menopause at an older age
  • Having your first child after age 30
  • Never having been pregnant
  • Postmenopausal hormone therapy
  • Drinking alcohol

Breast Cancer Symptoms

While many breast cancer symptoms can only be detected through screening, others are noticeable by sight or touch:

  • A lump in the breast or an area that feels different from surrounding tissue
  • Any discharge, particularly clear or bloody
  • Change in breast size, shape or appearance
  • Dimpling, flaking, irritation redness or other changes to the skin over the breast or around the nipple
  • A newly inverted nipple
  • A sore breast

If you notice any of these symptoms, time is of the essence. Talk to your doctor immediately.

Practicing Breast Cancer Prevention

Approximately one in eight women in America will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. But there are steps that can help you avoid becoming part of that statistic or catch the disease early enough to keep it from becoming metastatic breast cancer.

Our partners at the Mayo Clinic recommend:

  • Breast cancer screening — Talk to your doctor about the benefits, risks and time to begin clinical exams and mammograms.
  • Self-exams — More than finding issues, self-exams help you become familiar with your breasts and aware of any changes that occur.
  • Limit your alcohol consumption to no more than one drink a day.
  • Exercise most days of the week for 30 minutes.
  • Limit or avoid postmenopausal hormone therapy, which is a known risk factor.
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat a healthy diet.

Screening is essential, notes St. Clair Breast Care Center Radiologist Biblianna A. Klephick, M.D.: “All patients undergo a 3D mammogram, or Digital Breast Tomosynthesis, at our facilities. This state-of-the-art study is not routinely performed for all patients at many other institutions. 3D mammography has been shown to have increased sensitivity and specificity compared with traditional 2D imaging, providing the patient with the best study to detect breast cancer at its earliest stages.”

If you’re at high risk, other more radical options may include estrogen-blocking medications or, in extreme risk situations, preventive mastectomy.

Take Action

With the issue of breast cancer awareness front and center during the month of October, now is the time to be proactive. The St. Clair Hospital Breast Care Center offers two convenient locations for education, early detection, the most advanced mammogram and diagnostic imaging, and leading-edge treatment of cancer. All to help you prevent, detect and beat this dangerous disease.

To learn more or to schedule an appointment, visit stclair.org/services/az-listing/cancer-care/breast-care-center/ or call 412.942.7800.

Tara L. Grahovac, M.D. specializes in breast surgery. She earned her medical degree at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Cincinnati, Ohio. Dr. Grahovac completed her residency in general surgery at Allegheny General Hospital, and a fellowship in breast surgery at UPMC Magee Womens Hospital. She is board-certified by the American Board of Surgery and is certified as a trained clinical fellow in breast surgical oncology by a Society of Surgical Oncology-accredited program. Dr. Grahovac practices with Budway Surgical Associates, a division of St. Clair Medical Services.

To contact Dr. Grahovac, please call 412.942.7850.



BreastCancer.org: https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics

National Breast Cancer Foundation: https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/metastatic-breast-cancer and https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-symptoms-and-signs

Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/breast-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20352470