October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and officials with the Cancer Institute of New Jersey are urging all women to take charge of their health and get routine breast screenings.

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"The best screening tool we have is mammography," said Dr. Deborah Toppmeyer, Director of the Stacy Goldstein Breast Cancer Center and the Ladies Professional Golf Association In the Fight to Eradicate breast cancer at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey. "And I would encourage all women over the age of 40 to have their mammogram and to have their clinical breast exam. Certainly, if they are at high-risk based on family history or if they are concerned because of family history, they should tell their physicians or get referred to a high-risk program so they can assess what their risk really is or set up their screenings differently."

According to the American Cancer Society, 227,000 women nationwide will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year and 39,000 will die from the disease. Nearly 7,000 new cases are expected in New Jersey alone. "That is why it is so important for women to stay on top of their exams and be aware of breast health," said Toppmeyer. "I always recommend routine exercise and maintaining healthy body weight as well. We are getting more and more information about this in terms of modifying risk."

How important are self-exams? "Self-exam is a very controversial area. The question is whether or not it's effective in terms of earlier detection and whether or not it saves lives. The current data available suggests that it's not that effective. With that said, in many cases, it is usually women who bring a breast lump to their physician. So, a routine breast exam after their cycle is appropriate. If they are post-menopausal, then just pick a day each month for a self-exam," said Toppmeyer. "It's inexpensive and increases awareness and encourages breast health."

"Things we do when we're younger have an impact on when we're older," said Toppmeyer. "I really advocate that young girls and teens exercise, eat right, maintain a healthy body weight, limit alcohol consumption and those things may modify their future risk of breast cancer. We don't know why women develop breast cancer in all cases, but we do know that those factors may modify risk. Healthy living is a good thing. Couple that with screening and we are going to make further steps in decreasing those numbers nationally."

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