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Cancer is a disease in which cells become abnormal and form more cells in an uncontrolled way. With breast cancer, the cancer begins in the tissues that make up the breasts. The cancer cells may form a mass called a tumor. Getting a mammogram (x-ray of the breast) can help find the cancer early. This gives a woman more treatment options and makes it more likely she will survive the cancer.
Breast cancer is a leading cancer among Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander women. Native Hawaiian and Samoan women are more likely to die from breast cancer than many other groups of U.S. women. We do not know why rates vary between different groups of women. A study that looked at breast cancer in the five major ethnic groups in Hawaii found that the tumors of Native Hawaiian women often are found at a later, more advanced stage, and at a younger age. We also know that Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women have lower rates of breast cancer screening.
We do not know how to prevent breast cancer. But there are things you can do to reduce your risk, such as limiting how much alcohol you drink and being physically active.
There also are things you can do to find breast cancer early. Breast cancer screening looks for signs of cancer before a woman has symptoms. Screening can help find breast cancer early when it's most treatable. Two tests are commonly used to screen for breast cancer:
- Mammograms. A safe, low-dose x-ray exam of the breasts to look for changes that are not normal. Starting at age 40, women should have screening mammograms every 1-2 years. Depending on factors such as family history and your general health, your doctor may recommend a mammogram before age 40.
- Clinical breast exam (CBE). The doctor looks at and feels the breasts and under the arms for lumps or anything else that seems unusual. Ask your doctor if you need a CBE.
Regular screening is the best way to find breast cancer early in most women. If you are at higher risk you may need mammograms at an earlier age or more often. Or, your doctor might want to use other tests too. Let your doctor know if you find a change in your breast, such as a lump or nipple discharge that isn't breast milk.
Free or low-cost mammograms
Some women do not get regular mammograms because of cost and lack of insurance. Yet there are free and low-cost programs to help women get breast cancer screening. You can learn more by contacting the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.
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More information on Breast cancer
Read more from womenshealth.gov
- Breast Cancer Fact Sheet - This fact sheet provides information on why women should be concerned about breast cancer and gives resources for more information.
Explore other publications and websites
- Asian American and Pacific Islander Women's Health: Multilingual Cancer Screening Recommendations - This multilingual site offers several languages to help Asian-American, Pacific Islander, and Native Hawaiian women understand the importance of having mammograms and pap smears at regular intervals. Materials are offered in Samoan, Cambodian, Laotian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Thai.
- Asian Pacific Islander Cancer Education Materials Tool (Copyright © American Cancer Society) - This catalog of information about cancer provides links to websites that offer Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Hawaiians education materials on a variety of cancer topics.
- Breast Cancer Racial and Ethnic Differences (Copyright © Susan G. Komen Foundation) - Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers among women in the United States. It is the most frequently diagnosed cancer among nearly every racial and ethnic group, including African-American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian, and Hispanic women. The rates of developing and dying from the disease differ among ethnic groups, and this publication discusses these differences.
- Cancer Health Disparities - This on-line fact sheet gives a brief overview of the currently available data on cancer health disparities among racial and ethnic groups. It also summarizes some NCI research projects and initiatives designed to understand and eventually eliminate these disparities.
- Caregivers of Women Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer (Copyright © CancerCare) - This booklet is a guide to helping your loved one with metastatic breast cancer while still taking care of yourself. It also discusses how you and other caregivers can get the support you need.
- Facts and Statistics About Breast Cancer in the United States: Year 2009 (Copyright © National Breast Cancer Coalition) - This fact sheet discusses breast cancer rates in the United States and how they have changed in the last few decades.
- Mammograms - This fact sheet explains how screening mammograms differ from diagnostic mammograms. It also explains the benefits and limitations of screening mammography, as well as recommendations for when a woman should begin and how frequently she should have screening mammograms.
- Pictures of Breast Cancer (Copyright © breastcancer.org) - This web page has pictures of how to do a breast self-exam. It also has drawings of different types of breast cancer, copies of MRIs and other tools used to diagnose breast cancer, and pictures of breast reconstruction.
- Strength as a Survivor: Living After Cancer Treatment (Copyright © Lance Armstrong Foundation) - This brochure was written for Asian-American cancer survivors. It discusses the many physical, practical, and emotional concerns of cancer survivors. The brochure encourages survivors to seek support and lists organizations that can help them manage their concerns.
- Understanding Breast Changes: A Health Guide for Women - This booklet explains normal, age-related breast changes you may experience throughout your life and how they differ from changes that indicate breast cancer. It also discusses mammograms and maintaining your breast health.
- What You Need to Know About Breast Cancer - This information summary is designed for women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and who are about to undergo treatment.
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Content last updated: May 18, 2010.
Resources last updated: May 18, 2010.
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