Unfortunately, most of us know someone who has suffered through the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women. Almost 40,000 women die each year because of breast cancer, and almost 230,000 women will receive this diagnosis each year from their doctors. Although breast cancer rates among women have been decreasing steadily due to earlier detection and better treatments, it is still a deadly disease.

The good news, however, is that when diagnosed before the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, breast cancer is 98% curable. This is why early detection is so important because it will increase treatment options and saves lives.

The American Cancer Society recommends an annual mammogram for women age 40 and over. Women with a family history of breast cancer or at an increased risk should start magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) screening at age 30.

The risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer increases as a woman ages. Other risk factors include a family history of breast cancer, high breast-tissue density, a long menstrual history, obesity after menopause, postmenopausal hormone therapy, never having children or having one's first child after 30, or consumption of one or more alcoholic beverages per day.

In addition to breast self-exams and mammograms, women should watch for symptoms which include a lump or swelling of the breast, breast pain, skin irritation, a lump in the underarm area or nipple discharge other than breast milk. These changes could also be signs of an infection or a cyst which is why it is so important to get any breast changes checked out by a doctor promptly.

"I urge women to get a yearly mammogram since it is the most important action in identifying the cancer early," stated State Rep. Veronica Gonzales. "Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a good time for family members and friends to remind their loved ones to seek early detection screening."

For more information on breast cancer please call the 24-hour a day, seven days a week, toll-free National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-ACS-2345.