October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is a great time for nurses across the country to educate their patients about the disease and raise public awareness of the benefits of healthy lifestyles in reducing the risk. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide; however, it can be found in men as well. Currently, there is no cure for the disease. Therefore, the earlier it is identified, the better the outcome.

A nurse’s role in breast cancer prevention is crucial, and there are several ways that you can help patients reduce their risk. It is important that you have the knowledge and are up to date on current recommendations for screenings as well as other methods related to the diagnosis and evaluation of the disease. Raising awareness is an important first step in the battle against breast cancer.

Here are four ways you can help your patients:

1. Encourage women to become familiar with what is normal for them through breast self-exams.

This will help women detect any unusual changes in their breasts early. Most women know what is normal for them; however, the awareness may be concealed. For men, signs to watch include a lump felt in the nipple, pain, and an inverted nipple.

2. Recommend breast screening based on age group, family history, race, and ethnicity.

The American Cancer Society recommends that women who are at an average risk of breast cancer should begin annual mammograms at age 45 and should get mammograms every year. Women age 55 years and older should get mammograms every 2 years. The risk is increased in those with a first-degree relative (such as a mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer. White women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than African American women.

3. Encourage healthy lifestyles.

Educate patients on the health benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables; being active and maintaining a healthy weight; limiting alcohol consumption; staying away from tobacco; and reducing exposure to radiation.

4. Offer support.

Encourage women and men to talk about their concerns regarding their risk of developing cancer, breast screening, and available treatments. It is important that your patients have as much information as possible about breast cancer and effective prevention strategies. Mortality from breast cancer can happen at any age group, and developing awareness of the risk factors plays a critical role in prevention.

Nuananong Seal, PhD, RN

Nuananong Seal, PhD, RN, is an experienced researcher in health promotion and project director of a non-profit health and wellness program.

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