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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — U.S. military bases in the Pacific will focus on a very serious health issue next month.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, designed to highlight the importance of monthly breast self-exams for all women and annual mammograms for women over age 40 or with family histories of the disease.

Breast cancer can often be diagnosed with mammography long before a lump is discovered through self-exam, medical experts say. Early detection has led to a significant decrease in fatalities in recent years.

"Over 95 percent of women detected with early breast cancer are alive after five years," said Capt. Christopher Lindshield, a family medicine physician at Yokota’s hospital. "With more advanced cancers, however, the survival rate drops dramatically."

With the exception of some types of skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common form in women regardless of race or ethnicity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s also the leading cause of cancer deaths among Hispanic women and the second-leading cause of cancer deaths among white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian or Alaskan Native women.

Men can suffer the disease, too, though they account for about 1 percent of diagnosed cases.

In the United States, more than 180,000 women and 1,800 men are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, according to the latest CDC statistics. An estimated 40,000 women and 360 men will die from complications of breast cancer annually.

Women over age 40 should begin getting yearly mammograms in addition to their monthly breast self-exams, said Staff Sgt. Dominique Fisher, a mammography technician at Yokota. In addition, those who have had a mother or sister develop breast cancer should start annual mammograms 10 years before the age that relative was diagnosed.

Meanwhile, women in their 20s and 30s should get a clinical breast exam as part of a regular health checkup, preferably every three years, according to the American Cancer Society.

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