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Breast Cancer Awareness Month: How early detection and screenings can save lives

Written by: Tehreem Khan
Media contact: Yvonne Taunton

Early detection and limiting risk factors are the best ways to fight breast cancer.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States after skin cancer.

Helen Krontiras, M.D., professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine’s Department of Surgery and director of the Division of Breast and Endocrine Surgery, shares her expertise on causes and prevention tactics for breast cancer.

Causes and treatment

Many factors influence breast cancer risk, including family history, lifestyle habits and advancing age.

“Breast cancer is very common, and it happens more frequently as women get older,” said Krontiras, who also serves as the director of clinical affairs of the O’Neal Cancer Service Line. “However, thanks to research advances and improved methods of early detection, most women will have an excellent prognosis when diagnosed with breast cancer.”

Treatment for breast cancer has become more personalized and precise over the years.

“We are trying to improve the outcomes while minimizing the toxicities of breast cancer treatment,” she said. “One of the most exciting things we have done in the last 10-20 years is increasing targeted therapy for different types of breast cancer and deescalating therapies.”


“Despite excellent treatment options, we want to get to a point where we don’t have to treat cancer — where people don’t get cancer to begin with,” Krontiras said.

The risk of developing breast cancer can be reduced with the following tips:

Thanks to research advances and improved methods of early detection, most women will have an excellent prognosis when diagnosed with breast cancer.
Helen Krontiras, M.D.
  • Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Exercise does not have to be vigorous; something as simple as a brisk walk can help too.
  • Avoid alcohol. Excessive consumption of alcohol increases the risk for breast cancer.
  • Quit smoking. There are many reasons to avoid smoking, and decreasing the risk for breast cancer is one of them.

The most important thing in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer is early detection. 

“We want women to have regular screenings, so that if they are going to get cancer, they can find it early, when it’s most treatable and curable,” Krontiras said.

Other things to know

Men may also get breast cancer; but it is not as common as it is in women, representing only about 1 percent of breast cancers diagnosed.  

“All people who have breasts should participate in breast self-awareness,” Krontiras said. “That means, if there are changes in the breast, you should let your doctor know. Anything such as a lump, skin changes, nipple discharge or nipple inversion can be a sign of cancer.”

Knowing your family history is valuable information.

“It is important to ask questions about family history because having a family history of breast cancer and some other cancers does increase the risk of breast cancer,” Krontiras said. “If you have a family history of breast cancer, especially in younger women, you may want to start screening earlier than usual. Talk to your doctor about what is right for you.” 

Helen Krontiras, M.D.

Observing Breast Cancer Awareness Month

This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Krontiras wants people to remember that knowledge is power.

“We want to make sure patients have all the information they need for early diagnosis and treatment,” Krontiras said 

Seek reputable information, such as from the American Cancer Society, to dispel myths and learn more about breast cancer.

For early detection, schedule your mammogram today at the UAB Kirklin Clinic. If you have signs of breast cancer, schedule an appointment with a breast health specialist at the UAB O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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