Breast Cancer Awareness Month: 26 Years On, Where Do We Stand?

Have regular mammograms and clinical exams by a doctor for early detection. Get to know your breasts, and see your doctor for any suspicious changes. What else? Eat a healthy diet, do lots of physical activity, control your weight, avoid smoking, and limit alcohol intake. istockphoto

Breast cancer.
(istockphoto)

(CBS) Breast cancer continues to take a heavy toll on American women, 26 years after health advocates named October National Breast Awareness Month.

Just how big a toll? In 2006, 191,410 women were diagnosed with breast cancer, and 40,820 women died, according to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women, after non-melanoma skin cancer.

But the news isn't all bad. In fact, women are living longer than ever after a diagnosis.

"There has been a decrease in mortality over the last 40 years," says Dr. Deborah Axelrod, director of clinical breast cancer programs and services at New York University Cancer Institute at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. "We have made cancer a chronic disease. I am optimistic."

Here's something else you might know. Men get breast cancer too, though much less frequently than women. For every 100 cases in women, one man gets breast cancer, according to the CDC.

What steps can be taken to reduce the risk? Regular exercise and controlling your weight can help, experts say. So can limiting the amount of alcohol you drink.

Regular mammograms can be helpful too. But it's also important to know the warning signs of breast cancer.

These include:

  • New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit).
  • Thickening or swelling of part of the breast.
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.
  • Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast.
  • Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area.
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood.
  • Any change in the size or the shape of the breast.
  • Pain in any area of the breast.

If you want to help raise money for the cause, there are lots of events this month around the country. Here's a short list.

And stay tuned to CBSNews.com. We have a lot of cutting edge coverage coming up over the next few days, including breast cancer myths debunked, what you need to know about mammograms and a step-by-step self examination guide.

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