Acupath Laboratories Supports Breast Cancer Awareness Month

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Dr. Olga Falkowski Offers Five Tips for Prevention and Early Detection of Breast Cancer

Not enough women take advantage of the information we have available about how to prevent breast cancer and detect it at an early stage.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, when the nation becomes awash in pink, from lapel ribbons, to pink clothing and car magnets. Despite the success of the pink ribbon campaign at raising awareness of the disease, the fight to end breast cancer is not over, says Olga Falkowski, M.D., a board-certified pathologist who serves as the Medical Director and Director of Molecular Genetics at Acupath Laboratories, Inc., a national medical laboratory based in Plainview, N.Y.

“Not enough women take advantage of the information we have available about how to prevent breast cancer and detect it at an early stage,” she said. “This is vital to increasing a woman’s chances of survival.”

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the leading cause of death in women 20 to 59 years old and the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in women. Roughly 200,000 American women are diagnosed each year and more than 40,000 die from the disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In the spirit of Breast Cancer Awareness month, Dr. Falkowski offers five simple steps to help take control of your breast cancer risk:

1) Exercise, eat well and keep your weight in check. Studies show that women who exercise regularly, eat a nutritious, low-fat diet and limit alcohol consumption are less likely to develop breast cancer. A study published in June 2012 in the journal, Cancer, found that physical activity--either mild or intense--may reduce breast cancer risk, but substantial weight gain can negate the benefits.

2) Get regular breast cancer screenings. In addition to performing monthly breast self-exams beginning in your twenties, the American Cancer Society recommends that women age 40 and older undergo annual screening mammograms (an x-ray of the breast that can find cancer before symptoms arise). If the findings are abnormal a woman may also need to have additional imaging tests like a breast MRI or ultrasound, or a breast biopsy, which is examined under a microscope to see if cancer cells are present. “The only way to know for sure whether it’s cancer or not is to have a breast biopsy,” says Dr. Falkowski. “A biopsy can detect cancer at its earliest stages, when the chances of treating it are best.” When breast cancer is diagnosed in its earliest stages the five year survival rate is close to 100%, according to the College of American Pathologists.

3) Find out whether you are at high risk for breast cancer. Talk to your doctor about learning whether you carry inherited gene mutations such as BRCA1 or BRCA2 that increase your risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer. In addition to advancing age, additional risk factors include beginning menstruation before age 12, starting menopause after age 55, being obese, a smoker, or eating a diet high in fat and red meat.

4) Consider additional breast cancer testing. Women at high risk of breast cancer should talk with their doctor about new tools that can identify potentially dangerous cells years before an actual tumor forms. Dr. Falkowski encourages women as young as 25 to consider risk assessment tests like HALO, a new test that uses fluid gently aspirated from the nipples to determine the presence of abnormal cells that put a woman at greater breast cancer risk. “This test has the ability to identify these cells up to eight years before a lesion can be seen or felt,” says Dr. Falkowski. “This test gives women with abnormal results the opportunity to stay on alert and take needed interventions early—before cancer or a tumor has even formed.”

5) If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, make sure you are getting cutting-edge treatments. Women with breast cancer should also be aware of advanced diagnostic tools that can improve survival rates. For example, genetic HER-2/neu FISH testing, a sophisticated laboratory test able to better determine treatment options for an aggressive form of breast cancer, is useful in helping doctors tailor the course of treatment for each patient. Under U.S. Food & Drug Administration guidelines, all women with invasive breast cancer are eligible to undergo the test, but many women are not aware that it is an option. “What makes HER-2/neu FISH testing more effective than a typical laboratory workup is it has the advantage of looking at each tumor cell individually,” says Dr. Falkowski.

Olga Falkowski, M.D. is board-certified in anatomic and clinical pathology by the American Board of Pathology, and serves as the Medical Director and Director of Molecular Genetics at Acupath Laboratories, Inc.

Acupath Laboratories, Inc. is a Plainview, New York, specialty medical lab engaged in cutting-edge diagnostics.

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