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October raises breast cancer awareness

October is well known for being the month of Halloween, but it's also becoming increasingly more well known for being the month to raise awareness of breast cancer.

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime and the disease will take the lives of more than 40,000 American women every year.

It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women, surpassed only by lung cancer. With statistics so high, health organizations across the country are coming together during October -- Breast Cancer Awareness Month -- to encourage and promote education, screenings and early detection plans in order to help save lives.

"Early detection means easier capabilities of treating it earlier," said Kelly Olson, physician assistant in general surgery at Mayo Clinic Health System in Red Wing. In other words, "there's a good chance of a cure."

The most successful way to detect breast cancer as early as possible is with a mammogram, Olson added. A mammogram is an X-ray image of the breast that can detect abnormalities that may be cancer-causing.

While it's still recommended that women stay aware of their breasts' anatomy and tissue, it's much more likely that a mammogram would detect abnormalities prior to a woman noticing them herself.

"We would be able to see these subtle changes before a woman could feel them," Olson explained.

In the past, women were advised to get mammograms on an annual basis starting when they turned 50 years old. More recently, health officials are encouraging the regular screenings to begin quite a bit earlier.

"Starting at 40 is what our recommendation is," Olson said.

Unfortunately, the cost of mammograms is keeping some women from getting them.

"We think many women are not receiving these life-saving screening tests because they have no health insurance or their insurance has deductibles or co-payments they cannot afford to pay," said Jonathan Slater, director of Cancer Control at the Minnesota Department of Health.

MDH offers the Sage Screening Program to help women who may not otherwise be able to afford necessary screenings. Sage provides year-round breast and cervical cancer screenings to uninsured or underinsured women ages 40 and older.

According to MDH, more than 2,000 women have been diagnosed and treated for breast and cervical cancer through Sage since the program was started in 1991.

To learn about eligibility information for the free mammography program, women can call Sage at 1-888-643-2584. If a woman exceeds Sage's income guidelines, she can learn about other free or low-cost programs by calling the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345.

Women can also schedule mammograms locally at any of the following Mayo Clinic Health System sites:

• 1116 W. Mill St., Cannon Falls; call 507-263-4221

• 530 W. Cairns St., Ellsworth; call 715-273-5061

• 500 W. Grant St., Lake City; call 651-345-3321

• 701 Fairview Blvd., Red Wing; call 651-267-5252

• 1350 Jefferson Drive, Zumbrota; call 507-732-7314