The chance of a woman developing breast cancer is one in eight. The fear of becoming a part of that statistic was always in the back of her mind, said Cleva Steadman, Arlington resident and breast cancer survivor.
As October comes each year, sports teams and companies bear pink to show solidarity and awareness of the plight of those affected by breast cancer.
Steadman was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer six years ago, she said.
“It was pretty devastating to me,” Steadman said. “My biggest support network was my faith. Without God, I don’t know what I would have done.”
Steadman’s doctors advised against visiting official support groups to avoid influence from patients with more advanced stages of breast cancer, she said.
“When you are diagnosed with something like breast cancer, everyone looks at you like, ‘Oh, poor thing,’ and you really just want to feel like a normal person,” Steadman said. “Rather than go to a support group, I just worked out like a maniac and tried to feel normal.”
Take care of yourself and see your doctor for a yearly checkup, Steadman said.
The most useful tool for many college-aged women’s health is simply self-awareness, said Melinda Madison, UTA women’s health nurse practitioner.
“Be aware of what is normal for your body and get a breast exam from your doctor if something is out of the ordinary,” Madison said. “Not just being aware of your own body, but also being aware of your family history.”
If they do find something on their breast exam, Madison refers them to local clinics that offer breast sonograms. This is the most accurate method of diagnosing students, Madison said.
It’s all about early diagnosis, said Dr. Steven Seligman, Arlington obstetrician and gynecologist.
“The earlier the diagnosis is made, the more effective the treatment is going to be,” he said. “If you can catch it at stage one and it hasn’t spread to your lymph nodes, your five-year survival rate can be as high as 90 percent.”
Breast cancer is among the most commonly inherited cancers. There are fewer than 5 percent of breast cancer cases occurring in people under the age of 40. Many young women at risk may have a genetic factor at work, Seligman said.
“In a younger woman, the chances of having breast cancer is small,” he said. “But, on the flip side, we want to identify these women who have a genetic predisposition as early as possible.”
These cases only account for 10 percent of total breast cancer diagnoses. However, for a 25- to 30-year-old college student with an extensive family history of breast cancer, detecting the mutation of the genes responsible for healthy breast tissue growth can be as simple as a blood test, Seligman said.
“If they are a carrier of one of the genes, they need to be monitored much differently,” Seligman said. “I would recommend yearly mammograms at age 30 and perhaps a preventative mastectomy and reconstruction after childbearing.”
For those without health insurance, state and federal funds are available, Seligman said.
Medicaid provides coverage for breast cancer screening processes but not all healthcare networks will accept it, limiting the doctor of choice for some patients, Seligman said.
On the state level, the Moncrief Cancer Institute offers free screening processes and financial grants for surgical procedures for uninsured women who qualify.
“There is nobody out there with breast cancer that is not going to have an opportunity to be treated,” Seligman said.