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Do You Know the Risk Factors for Breast Cancer?

A health care worker helps a woman at a mammography machine

Early detection makes a big difference in a woman’s chance of surviving.

by Hans Petersen, VA Staff Writer
Monday, October 7, 2013

October: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Two very important words that can save lives: early detection.

Women Veterans are encouraged to add those two words to their calendar every month as reminders. And, then follow up: talk with your health care provider about appropriate breast cancer screenings, such as regular mammograms.

Mammograms can detect breast cancer early and early detection makes a big difference in a woman’s chances of surviving. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that women age 50 years or older should have a screening mammogram every two years. Both men and women can develop breast cancer, though male breast cancer is rare.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Women Veterans should be aware of breast cancer all year long. VA seeks to help women Veterans improve their overall health by providing general and gender specific health care.

It’s important that you keep your own prevention scorecard and talk to your provider throughout the year.

State of the art digital mammography equipment is available at many VA medical centers. Each VA medical center has designated women’s health care providers. Today, women Veterans can see the same doctor and case manager for years.

Breast cancer risk factors include getting older, having a close family member with breast cancer, being overweight or obese, previous radiation therapy/exposure to the breasts or chest, not exercising and having certain gene mutations.

Having these risk factors does not mean that a woman or man will develop breast cancer, but they should be brought to the attention of their health care provider.

Early detection makes a big difference in a woman’s chance of surviving.

Big Changes in Health Care for Women Veterans

Big changes have been made since the launch of VA’s Women’s Health Initiative in 2008. Progress includes:

  • Improving access to care and enhancing services for women Veterans through new policies
  • Publishing clearly worded handbooks for maternity and reproductive care, as well as infertility evaluation and treatment
  • Implementing comprehensive primary care for women Veterans
  • Conducting cutting-edge research on the effects of military service on women’s lives
  • Improving communication and outreach to women Veterans
  • Providing mental health, homelessness prevention and other services designed to meet the unique needs of women Veterans
  • Training providers in Women Veterans’ Primary Health Care to ensure women Veterans are offered a women’s health provider who is skilled in taking care of her health problems
  • Training for VA emergency rooms to improve triage and diagnosis for conditions more common in women, including aspects of pregnancy and maternity care
  • Including in VA pharmacies more of the contraception drugs that women need
  • Adding women’s shoes, glasses, and wigs to the prosthetics supplies
  • Spending millions on remodeling and construction to ensure that exam and inpatient rooms are private and provide dignity to all Veterans’ hospital experiences

VA wants every woman to get the appropriate screening. The VA directory helps Veterans find their nearest facility.

Non-Veterans can find local screening resources through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s early detection program at www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbccedp.