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In Honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, PHI Encourages Women to Take Control of Their Breast Health

September 30, 2009

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in California and the number two cancer-related killer of women, behind lung cancer. In observance of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, the Public Health Institute (PHI) encourages women to take control of their breast health by having regular doctor screening exams and annual mammograms if they are over age 40 and by routinely examining their breasts for any changes.

"More than 22,000 California women will be newly diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, and more than 4,100 California women will die from the disease, according to California Cancer Registry estimates," said Janet Bates, MD, research program director for CCR, a collaboration of the California Department of Public Health, PHI, regional registries, hospitals and cancer researchers. The good news is that great strides have been achieved in breast cancer, and most women diagnosed with the disease at its earliest stage when it is most treatable are likely to survive.

Women with early-stage disease that hasn't spread outside the breast have a 98 percent likelihood of surviving five years, according to a September 2009 CCR report. When the cancer has spread beyond the breast, the chance of survival shrinks to 21 percent. "Over the past 20 years, we have seen breast cancer death rates go down by nearly one-third in California, thanks to more detection of cases at the early stage and improvements in available treatment options," Bates said.

However, all women are not sharing equally in these positive developments. Minority and low-income women are less likely to be diagnosed at the early stage, receive effective treatment and to survive breast cancer, she said. "These data from the California Cancer Registry demonstrate a continued need to ensure all California women have access to breast cancer screening and high-quality treatment for breast cancer," Bates explained.

PHI supports the observance of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which for 25 years has been raising awareness about the need for early detection as well as providing information about treatment and recurrence. The month-long October event is a partnership of national public service organizations, professional medical associations and government agencies. Resources are available throughout the year on the organization's Web site, www.NBCAM.org.

The state of California makes free breast exams and mammograms available to women over age 40 who are uninsured or underinsured through the Every Woman Counts program. More information on breast cancer is available at the California Cancer Registry Web site, at http://www.ccrcal.org