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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Posted by Linda F. McElhiney,PharmD, RPh, FIACP, FACA, FASHP on Oct 13, 2017 11:00:00 AM
Most people have been affected personally or know someone who has or have had breast cancer: family, friends, co-workers, and/or acquaintances. It is the second leading cause of death in women (after lung cancer). According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), about 1 in 8 women (12%) will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. In 2017, ACS estimates that 252,710 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and 40,610 or about 20% will die from it. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and a good time to learn some facts about this disease, risk factors, signs and symptoms, and what pharmacists can do for patients before and after diagnosis and treatment.

Only 5% to 10% of breast cancers are genetically linked or “runs in the family”. Most cancers are “sporadic” meaning there is no genetic connection to developing the disease. Some risk factors can be reduced or avoided with changes in lifestyle and habits: sedentary, poor diet, obesity, frequent alcohol consumption, and hormone replacement therapy. The following risk factors cannot be avoided or changed:

  • Age – risk increases with age
  • Race – Caucasian and Black women are more vulnerable
  • Family history
  • Personal health history
  • Early menstruation – before the age of 12
  • Late menopause - after age of 55

Early detection of breast cancer is the key for women to protect themselves from breast cancer. There are 4 easy steps to follow:

  • Monthly self-examination of the breasts
  • Annual screening mammography between the ages of 40 and 50
  • Women in high-risk categories should have annual screening mammography starting at an earlier age determined by the attending physician
  • Breast examination by a health care provider at least once every 3 years after age 20 and annually after age 40

Women should be instructed to look for the following symptoms of breast cancer and to see a physician if they develop:

  • Lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm that persists through the menstrual cycle
  • Mass or lump which may feel as small as a pea
  • Change in size, shape, or contour of the breast
  • Blood-stained or clear fluid discharge from the nipple
  • Change in the feel or appearance of the skin on the breast or nipple
  • Redness of the skin on the breast or nipple
  • Change in shape or position of the nipple
  • Area that is distinctly different from any other area on either breast
  • Marble-like hardened area under the skin

What can pharmacists or pharmacies do to help in the fight to cure breast cancer, reduce patients’ risks, and provide support for breast cancer patients? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Participate in local events to raise money for cancer research, treatments, and screenings. Organize the pharmacy staff into a team and participate in a 5K run or walk, such as Race for the Cure®. It can be a fun activity for the staff as well as raise money for a good cause.
  • If the pharmacy compounds and provides services for bio-identical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT), make sure that the patients are doing the annual screenings and encourage them to do the monthly self-examinations. Provide information cards that can be hung in the shower to remind them. Make sure that the screenings are documented in the patients’ medical records. Several breast cancers are estrogen-sensitive and supplemental estrogen may increase the risk of developing breast cancer and this may be a deciding factor on whether to do BHRT.
  • Breast cancer patients who undergo mastectomies may have lingering nerve damage and pain from the surgery that may not respond well to traditional pain management therapies, such as oral medications. The same transdermal compounded pain medications used to treat diabetic neuropathies or fibromyalgia, may be used to successfully treat this nerve pain too. It may take a couple of weeks for the full effect and the patient may need to use it for several months after the surgery, but it can significantly improve the patient’s quality of life and help her get back to her normal daily activities.

For more information about breast cancer, contact the Susan G. Komen Foundation®, the American Cancer Society®, the National Breast Cancer Foundation, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or Bright Pink©. Breast and ovarian cancer is also the national project for the Kappa Epsilon Pharmacy Fraternity and this organization sponsors and participates in several local activities in the community and at universities.

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Spectrum Pharmacy Products, a division of Spectrum Chemical, is a global supplier of high quality chemicals, pharmacy supplies and equipment.

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