What You Need to Know About COVID-19

As the number of COVID-19 (also commonly referred to as the coronavirus) cases in the United States continues to rise and more communities are affected, people are growing increasingly concerned and have many questions. It’s important to be well informed about this illness so that you are able to take proper precautions to protect your health and that of those you interact with.

Covid-19

Symptoms of COVID-19
COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a virus called SARS-CoV-2. The most common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, and shortness of breath. Fatigue, sore throat, and headaches have also been reported among numerous people suffering from COVID-19.

Social distancing is critically important
You’ve likely heard the term social distancing a number of times in the recent weeks. Put simply, social distancing is the idea of limiting your interactions with the people you don’t live with in order to prevent or minimize the spread of COVID-19. Social distancing can take many forms, from staying home from work if your job allows for that, to maintaining six feet of distance between you and people you encounter in public, and not getting together with friends or attending workout classes in a studio.

The United States does not have the capability to handle the number of sick people in hospitals and ICU’s projected as the virus spreads. The purpose of social distancing is to decrease that peak so it is manageable by our healthcare system.  So social distancing is a necessary action to help save fellow Americans that you might know or not know.

“Even if you are young, or otherwise healthy, you are at risk and your activities can increase the risk for others. It is critical that you do your part to slow the spread of the coronavirus,” states The White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a recommendation to the public.

Among a number of guidelines, the CDC and the White House recommend working from home when possible, avoiding social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people (though other guidelines recommend keeping gatherings even smaller), using pickup and delivery options for food rather than dining in a restaurant or bar, and avoiding unnecessary travel. 

If you have a compromised immune system, it’s healthiest for you to stay home
COVID-19 can carry more risk for people with underlying health conditions. For this reason, the CDC recommends that people with compromised immune systems and serious health conditions like heart disease and diabetes stay home and minimize unnecessary contact with others.

It’s early to know a lot about how COVID-19 may affect pregnant women
At this point, little is known about the effects of COVID-19 on pregnant women and infants due to data limitations, and thus the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) hasn’t made any formal recommendations for pregnant women in terms of managing or evaluating COVID-19.

The ACOG highlights that while current research and data doesn’t show that pregnant women are at higher risk of complications from COVID-19, they should be considered an at-risk population given available data showing that pregnant women are at higher risk from other respiratory infections such as influenza.

The CDC recommends pregnant women should follow the same precautions as the rest of the public for protecting themselves from COVID-19. This includes avoiding people who are sick, covering your cough, and frequently cleaning your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

It’s unclear if COVID-19 can be transferred from a mother to her unborn baby
The ACOG and CDC report that it’s currently unclear if COVID-19 can be transmitted to the fetus during delivery or pregnancy.

It’s important to keep your doctor aware of your travel history, exposure to people with COVID-19, and any symptoms you may be experiencing
This information is important for your healthcare providers to know about and will help inform healthcare and treatment during this pandemic. Let your doctor know right away if you have a fever, breathing issues, or any other symptoms that are outside of the usual. If you suspect you have COVID-19 or if you’ve been in contact with anyone who has, it’s important to let your doctor know prior to visiting their office so they can take proper precautions to keep everyone safe.

A statement from the President of AOA, Mike Urig, MD
As leaders in Women’s Health across the valley, AOA has always strived to set an example of the highest standards for health care. Your health and safety are our top priority as the impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt around the country and in our communities. This is uncharted territory for us all, but we are committed to making decisions that are best for our patients, employees, families, and our providers.

To that end, we have implemented procedures in our offices to limit exposure to COVID-19 by implementing CDC recommended actions, including social distancing, limiting the number of patients, visitors, and staff, and instituting strict cleaning protocols of the waiting rooms and exams rooms.

We are also monitoring the CDC and Arizona Department of Health guidelines daily and will implement new procedures as they are published. We have taken steps to make needed visits to our offices safer, and we will serve our patients with the same compassionate and high-quality care that they have come to expect.

We are here for you and we believe the best way to get through this is together.

Mike Urig, MD (President of AOA)

Everything You’ve Been Wondering About Female Fertility

Having questions and concerns about fertility—meaning your ability to conceive a child—isn’t just limited to women who are trying to conceive. Many are curious about fertility, including women who might want to conceive in the future, women who are trying to protect themselves against pregnancy, women with irregular periods, and more. Keep reading to learn more about when women are most fertile, how irregular periods might impact fertility, how lifestyle can affect your ability to get pregnant, and more.

Female Fertility

Will I be able to get pregnant?
Women are most fertile in their twenties and start to see a decrease in fertility around age 35. Around age 37, fertility declines more rapidly. But this doesn’t mean it’s impossible to conceive if you’re older—35-year-old women still have more than 50% odds of conceiving naturally during their first year of trying.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), somewhere around 10 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 have trouble getting pregnant or staying pregnant, and around one-third of couples in which the woman trying to conceive is over 35 have fertility problems. Along with age-related changes, a number of health conditions can make it difficult or impossible for a woman to conceive, including ovulation disorders, damage to the fallopian tubes, cervical or uterine abnormalities, early menopause, endometriosis, cancer, and cancer treatments.

What is infertility?
For a woman who is under age 35, infertility means not being able to get pregnant after having frequent, unprotected sex for one year. For women who are 35 and older, infertility is defined as the inability to get pregnant after trying for six months. Keep in mind that men can contribute to infertility, too—this isn’t just a problem that affects women. Male infertility contributes to around one-third of all fertility problems.

At what point in trying to conceive should I see my doctor about fertility?
If you’re trying to conceive or think you may want to in the future, it’s a good idea to have a conversation with your doctor so you can make sure you’re taking the most appropriate steps to make it happen.

Many women who have trouble getting pregnant wonder when it’s an appropriate time to seek help or advice from a doctor. If you’re under age 35, the general guidance is to try getting pregnant for a year before seeing a fertility doctor. If you’re 35 or older, you should see a doctor if you haven’t been able to get pregnant after six months of trying. And if you’re older than 40, the recommendation typically is to see a doctor right away. 

If my cycle is irregular, does this mean I may have fertility problems?
If your cycle is irregular or you’re not getting your period at all, you may not be ovulating every month, or you may be ovulating at different times each month. Irregular ovulation can be caused by various conditions including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), stress, weight, thyroid conditions, and perimenopause. Any condition that causes irregular ovulation and periods can make it more difficult for you to get pregnant, as ovulation is a necessary step in getting pregnant. Keep in mind that irregular periods do not mean you won’t be able to conceive.

Is there anything I can do to protect my fertility?
Your overall health and reproductive health are connected in a big way, so it’s important to keep lifestyle factors like exercise, nutrition, and alcohol use in mind as you’re trying to conceive. Try to maintain a healthy body weight, avoid smoking and heavy alcohol use, and limit stress.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

What Women Need to Know About Cholesterol

When it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, many of us are well-versed in the benefits of maintaining a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and keeping up to date with doctors’ visits. But there are areas of health that many people don’t think about as often, and one of them is cholesterol.

Cholesterol

What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that’s found in cells throughout the body. It circulates through blood by binding to substances called lipoproteins. Some cholesterol is produced by the liver, and some comes from food sources—often animal products.

Our bodies need a certain amount of cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and bile acids that help us break down food. But when cholesterol levels get too high, this can be problematic and contribute to health problems such as coronary artery disease and atherosclerosis.

When we talk about cholesterol, we often hear the terms HDL and LDL, both of which are lipoproteins. Here’s what you need to know about each.

HDL: This stands for high-density lipoprotein, and is often referred to as “good” cholesterol. HDL carries cholesterol from the arteries to the liver, where it is then removed from the body. Healthy levels of HDL may protect your body against heart attack and stroke, but HDL levels that are too low can increase the risk of heart disease.

LDL: This stands for low-density lipoprotein, and is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol. High levels of LDL can contribute to harmful plaque accumulation in your arteries, which can narrow your blood vessels, lead to blood clots, and raise your risk of stroke, heart attack, and other harmful conditions. Ideally, LDL levels should be kept under 100 mg.

Is cholesterol a concern among women?
It’s a common misunderstanding that only men need to worry about their cholesterol levels, but this isn’t true. In fact, cholesterol levels often rise among women around menopause.

Before menopause, estrogen often plays a protective role in terms of raising HDL or “good” cholesterol levels. But the picture changes when menopause arrives—typically HDL (or “good”) cholesterol levels drop, and LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol levels rise, along with overall cholesterol levels. It’s important to have your cholesterol levels checked if you are going through menopause or nearing it so that you can be aware of these changing levels. This is important even if other factors in your life—like diet and exercise—remain consistent. Cholesterol levels can be assessed with a blood test and can often be managed with a healthy diet, exercise, not smoking, maintaining a healthy body weight, and/or medication.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

Here’s Why UTIs Are Common After Sex

Many of us are familiar with the feeling of a urinary tract infection (UTI)—it can be uncomfortable, annoying, and painful, and often recurs time and time again. Many are also familiar with the unfortunate experience of getting a UTI after having sex, which can easily interfere with your sex life, especially if it becomes a chronic problem.

UTIs and Sex

Here’s what you need to know about UTIs and why they’re fairly common after intercourse.

What is a UTI?
A UTI is an infection that occurs anywhere in your urinary system. It could be in your urethra or bladder (these are the most common locations), or in your kidneys or ureters. Typically, microbes travel from your urethra into your bladder and cause an infection within the urethra or bladder, but sometimes the bacteria can travel higher up into the urinary system, especially if left untreated.

UTIs are far more common among women than men, which is probably why you don’t hear men talking about them very much. This can be partly attributed to female anatomy—women have a shorter urethra, which means bacteria doesn’t have to travel as far before reaching the bladder. Other risk factors include sexual activity, changes in hormone levels after menopause, an impaired immune system, or abnormalities in the urinary tract that could cause a backup of urine in the urethra, or blockages somewhere within the urinary tract.

What are some common symptoms of a UTI?

  • A burning or painful sensation when you urinate
  • A strong urge to urinate
  • Cloudy or bloody urine
  • Urine that smells different than usual
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Feeling shaky or fatigued
  • Pressure or bloating in the abdomen
  • Abdominal pain and muscle aches
  • Fever and chills
  • Pain or pressure in your back

Why are UTIs common after sex?
When you have sex (this includes oral sex, too), bacteria can get into your urethra and bladder.  Women have a shorter urethra than men, which can make it easier for bacteria to make its way to your bladder. But that’s not all—a woman’s urethra is also close to the anus, which can make it easy for bacteria to get to the urethra.

Is there anything I can do to avoid getting a UTI after I have sex?
You can’t completely avoid getting a UTI, but there are a few things you can do to lessen your chances. One is to make sure to urinate after sex—this may help remove bacteria from the bladder. Urinating and/or washing your genital area with warm water before having sex can be helpful, too. Both of these may reduce the chances of bacteria making its way to your urethra and bladder. If UTIs after sex seem to be a recurring problem, some doctors recommend taking prescription antibiotics, but that’s something you’ll want to talk about with your doctor.

Additional tips include drinking lots of water, wiping front to back to avoid spreading bacteria toward your urethra, making sure to use the bathroom when you need to rather than holding it in, keeping your genital area clean, avoid douching, don’t use scented feminine cleaners and sprays, wear cotton underwear, and change out of damp exercise clothes as soon as you can.

Are UTIs dangerous to health?
Many UTIs clear up within a few days after being treated with antibiotics. But if a UTI is left untreated you risk running into more serious health complications like kidney infections and kidney damage, recurring urinary tract infections, and even sepsis.

UTIs are also more dangerous during pregnancy, when the complications of a UTI carry greater risk for a mother and her unborn baby.  It’s important to see or get in touch with your doctor right away If you have any symptoms of a UTI while pregnant.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

What You Can Do Now To Prevent Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a health condition that weakens our bones and leaves us at high risk for fractures. When someone has osteoporosis, the spaces inside the bones lose strength and density, and the outer parts of the bone become thin and weak. Hip, spine, and wrist fractures are among the most common.

What You Can Do Now To Prevent Osteoporosis

As you get older, your risk of osteoporosis increases. But this isn’t an illness that only affects the elderly—it can actually strike at any age. In fact, osteoporosis is often referred to as a silent disease because it slowly weakens bones over time, leaving many unaware of its presence until experiencing a broken bone. If your doctor lets you know your bone mass is lower than it should be (this is sometimes referred to as osteopenia), you’re going to want to incorporate some diet and lifestyle changes to strengthen your bones and prevent the onset of osteoporosis.

Whether your bones are healthy now or have started to show signs of osteopenia or osteoporosis, it’s never too late to be proactive about your bone health. No matter how old or young you may be, there’s a lot you can do to prevent the onset of osteoporosis. Here are a few areas to focus on:

Exercise
Exercise is crucial to keeping your bones healthy and strong, while also strengthening your muscles and improving balance, all of which are important for preventing injury and avoiding falls. A good rule of thumb here is to make a routine of doing weight-bearing and resistance exercises somewhere around three to four days a week or more. You have a lot of options for weight-bearing exercise, including walking, running, hiking, dancing, tennis, yoga, and stair-climbing. For strength and resistance training you can use free weights, weight machines, elastic resistance bands, push-ups and other exercises that use your own bodyweight, or even exercise in water.

Eat right
To protect your body against osteoporosis, it’s important to eat a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of foods that are rich in calcium and vitamin D. Calcium is a mineral that helps the body build and maintain strong bones. If there isn’t enough calcium in your diet, your body may take calcium from your bones, which can weaken them and even lead to broken bones. Yogurt, milk, sardines, collard greens, beans, tofu, and whey protein are all great sources of calcium to include in your meals and snacks.

Vitamin D is important to bone health because it helps your body absorb and regulate calcium levels. Salmon and other fatty fish, egg yolks, mushrooms, cheese, and fortified milk are all good sources of vitamin D.

Being underweight puts you at risk for osteoporosis, so you’ll need to make sure you’re eating enough and maintaining a healthy weight. Repeated weight loss and restrictive diets that aren’t high enough in calories, calcium, vitamin D, and protein can stress and weaken your bones.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Eating a well-balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and staying active are all important in lowering your risk of osteoporosis. You’ll also want to stay away from smoking and heavy drinking, as drinking more than two alcoholic drinks each day and smoking both put you at risk for bone loss.

Pay attention to risk factors
Some factors increase your risk of developing osteoporosis. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • A family history of osteoporosis or broken bones
  • Early menopause
  • Breaking a bone after age 50
  • Long periods of physical inactivity or bed rest
  • Smoking
  • Having a small frame

It’s important to speak with your doctor about these risk factors and to make an effort to incorporate healthy practices that might minimize your risk of developing the disease.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

Exercises for Increased Pleasure in the Bedroom

By now nearly everyone knows exercise is a key component to staying healthy, but did you know that you may want to add vaginal strengthening exercises into the mix? Targeting your pelvic floor muscles, vaginal exercises can improve your sex life while also protecting your body against urinary incontinence, which is when you lose control of your bladder.

Exercises for Increased Pleasure in the Bedroom

Some women are drawn to vaginal exercises after childbirth, as their vagina loses some of its natural elasticity with age, or simply to improve their experience during sex. Whatever your reason, incorporating pelvic floor exercises into your routine will strengthen and tone these important muscles and may make it easier to for you to achieve orgasm and also kick-up the intensity of those orgasms.  Here are a few pelvic floor exercises recommended:

Kegels
Kegel exercises are a great way to strengthen your pelvic floor. Besides making it easier for you achieve orgasm, kegels can also help your body increase vaginal wetness, relax your vaginal muscles, strengthen against urinary incontinence, and improve circulation to the pelvic floor and vagina.

How to do kegels: After emptying your bladder, contract your pelvic floor muscles (think of the muscles deep in your vagina that you use to stop urinating) for five to 10 seconds. Release the contraction and keep your muscles completely relaxed for five to 10 seconds. Make sure you relax your muscles for at least the same amount of time that they were contracted.  Repeat the cycle at least three times, and do this exercise somewhere between three and five times each day. As you do more kegels and your muscles strengthen over time, it’s a good idea to contract your muscles for longer periods, up to 20 seconds.

Squats
Squats strengthen your pelvic floor muscles while also working many other important muscles like your glutes, quadriceps, and your core.

How to do squats: Standing against a wall with your feet separated about shoulder width apart, lower yourself until your thighs become close to parallel with the floor, hold for ten seconds while being mindful to engage your pelvic floor muscles, and then stand back up. Start with one set of ten repetitions and work your way up to two or three sets over time, depending on your physical ability.

Vaginal cone exercises
A vaginal cone is a device you can use to help with kegels. Most are weighted and about the size of a tampon, though the specifics will vary and many options are available.

How to use a vaginal cone: You’ll want to follow the specific directions for the product you purchase, but most involve placing the device in your vagina, contracting your pelvic floor muscles for 15 seconds or so, and then releasing.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

Two Menstrual Periods in One Month

Getting your period twice in one month can be surprising, not to mention annoying and uncomfortable. And if you’ve never experienced this before, you also might find yourself worried that something concerning is going on in your body.

Two Periods in One Month

Getting two periods in one month isn’t always a cause for concern—your body may be following its normal menstrual cycle, which can range in length between 24 and 38 days. So, if your cycle is less than a month long and you have your period at the beginning of the month, you may see it appear again toward the end of the month.

But aside from the length of your cycle, there are many other reasons why you might experience bleeding twice in a month. In some cases, you may be experiencing bleeding tied to a health condition rather than actually getting your period twice. Here are some of the common causes:

You’re pregnant
Irregular bleeding during pregnancy occurs for some women, and it’s possible to mistake irregular bleeding for your period. If you get your period twice in one month and are sexually active, you may want to take a pregnancy test to see if you’re experiencing irregular bleeding as a result of being pregnant.

You have pelvic inflammatory disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease is a condition in which the female reproductive organs get infected after bacteria move into that area of the body from the vagina or cervix. One of the symptoms  of pelvic inflammatory disease is irregular uterine bleeding, in which you may experience bleeding between menstrual cycles.

You’re experiencing a thyroid disorder
Both hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland) and hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland) can cause your menstrual cycle to become shorter, meaning you may have two periods within one month. Both conditions can be diagnosed with a blood test and treated with medication.

You have uterine fibroids
Uterine fibroids are abnormal growths that develop in the uterus. They’re typically benign but may contribute to heavy bleeding between periods. If you mistake this bleeding for your menstrual cycle, it might appear as though you have two menstrual periods in one month.

You didn’t take your birth control on schedule
Forgetting to take your birth control on schedule can throw your hormones out of whack in a way that may lead you to experience irregular bleeding. Your cycle will typically return to normal after you resume taking your birth control medication according to schedule.

You’re under a lot of stress
Feeling really stressed recently? This could be the reason why your period came twice in a month, as stress can shorten your menstrual cycle. Stress can lead you to miss your period as well.

You have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal condition in which your reproductive hormones become imbalanced. Irregular bleeding is a common symptom of this condition.

Getting your period twice in one month usually isn’t anything to worry about if it happens just once or you know you have a shorter cycle. But if this is happening repeatedly each month and is different from your normal cycle, you’ll want to see your healthcare provider to find out what’s going on.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

Seven Ways You Can Help Prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

A fear of any new parent, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (commonly known as SIDS) is a leading cause of death for infants in their first 12 months of life and occurs when a baby dies (usually in their sleep) without explanation or warning.

SIDS stock photo

Researchers aren’t entirely sure what causes SIDS, but some theorize that it has something to do with defects in the area of an infant’s brain that’s responsible for controlling breathing and waking from sleep. Others believe that in addition to these brain abnormalities, environmental stressors and the infant’s stage of development also play a role.

There’s nothing you can do to fully prevent SIDS, but there are various steps you can take to reduce its risk. Here’s what you can do to help keep your baby safe:

Have your baby sleep on his or her back
Whether it’s naptime or nighttime, the safest sleep position for your baby through age one is on his or her back. While time on the stomach (often referred to as tummy time) is definitely important to your infant’s development, this should happen while your baby is awake rather than during their sleep time.

Be sure not to fall into the belief that it’s ok for your baby to sleep on their stomach once in a while—research shows that babies who typically sleep on their backs but are then positioned to sleep on their stomachs are at a higher risk for SIDS.

Avoid soft sleep surfaces
Couches, sofas, and other soft surfaces are dangerous to your baby’s health while sleeping. Instead, you’ll want to put your baby to sleep on a flat, firm surface specifically designed for infants. If your baby falls asleep in a car seat, infant carrier, or stroller, move them to a firm sleep surface as soon as you can.

Keep bedding and soft objects out of your baby’s sleeping area
Blankets, pillows, and other soft objects in your baby’s sleeping area increase their risk of suffocation. Once your baby reaches age one, these objects are probably ok, but before then it’s far safer for your child to sleep in a space without any soft objects, experts say.

Have your baby sleep in your room
Research shows that babies who share a room with their parents for the first six to 12 months of their lives have a reduced risk of SIDS. But this doesn’t mean you should have your baby share your bed, as this puts infants at risk of suffocation, strangulation, and SIDS.

Don’t smoke around your baby
Exposure to secondhand smoke is a risk factor for SIDS, and so is a mother smoking during pregnancy. You’ll want to keep your baby away from anyone who is smoking, as well as away from areas where people recently have been smoking.

Make sure your baby sleeps at a comfortable temperature
It’s important not to let your baby get too hot while sleeping. Keep an eye on the temperature of the room, making sure it’s not too hot, and avoid overdressing your baby at bedtime. If your baby is sweating or appears hot, remove some of their clothing. 

Give your baby a pacifier
Sleeping with a pacifier may reduce your baby’s risk of SIDS. But since objects in your baby’s sleeping area can be dangerous, make sure the pacifier isn’t attached to a string, cord, stuffed animal, or anything else. If you’re breastfeeding, wait about a month before giving your baby a pacifier.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

Understanding Breast Cancer: Symptoms, Treatment & Risk Factors

As the second most common type of cancer among women in the United States, breast cancer affects somewhere around one in eight women (12%) at some point in their lifetime. Though the death rates for this disease have fallen over the past few decades thanks to improved treatment and detection, the death rates are still higher than for any other cancer besides lung cancer.

Breast Cancer stock photo

Breast Cancer Signs and Symptoms
Breast cancer occurs when cancer cells form in the breast tissue. Some people do not experience any signs of breast cancer at all, but here are some common signs you will want to keep in mind:

  • Discharge from the nipple that isn’t breastmilk.
  • A new lump in your breast or armpit.
  • Pain within any part of your breast, including the nipple.
  • Irritation of the skin on your breast and/or dimpling of the breast skin.
  • Pulling in of the nipple.
  • Redness or flaking skin around the nipple
  • Changes to your breast’s shape or size.

Detecting Breast Cancer
On their own, none of the signs or symptoms we just mentioned indicate that you have breast cancer. But if you notice any of these signs or have any concerns about your health, it’s important to see a physician as soon as possible for further testing and information.

Some of the most common tests doctors use in diagnosing breast cancer include physical exams and health histories, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), clinical breast exams, breast ultrasounds, mammograms, and biopsies. Detection is extremely important in finding breast cancer early and being able to treat it before the cancer has a chance to spread or become incurable.

According to the CDC, the two most common types of breast cancer are:

  • Invasive ductal carcinoma: Where the cancer cells form in the breast ducts (the part of the breast that carries milk to the nipple) and then grow outside that area into other parts of the breast tissue, in some cases spreading beyond the breasts into other parts of the body.
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma: Where the cancer cells spread from the breast lobules (the breast glands that produce milk) into nearby breast tissues and sometimes into other parts of the body.

Treating Breast Cancer
Doctors treat breast cancer in many ways, and specific treatment varies from person to person depending on the type of cancer, the extent to which it spreads throughout the body (which is something called metastasis), and how the individual responds to treatment.

Some common treatments are surgery, mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy, and immunotherapy. Many other forms of treatment are tested in clinical trials.

The Risk Factors
Some people are at a higher risk for breast cancer than others. You may be at increased risk if you have a strong family history of breast cancer, or if you have inherited mutations in your BRCA genes that make them more likely to divide and change in ways that could potentially lead to cancer.

In some cases, people who are at high risk for breast cancer will have surgery to reduce their risk. This could be a mastectomy, where the breast tissue is removed, or a salpingo-oophorectomy, where the ovaries and fallopian tubes are removed.

Aside from family history and genetic mutations, other risk factors for breast cancer include aging (most breast cancer cases are diagnosed in women older than 50), early menstrual periods (before age 12) and late menopause (after age 55), having dense breasts, a personal history of breast cancer, and having radiation therapy to the chest or breast region in the past.

All of these factors are out of your control, but you do have control over a few risk factors. Lack of physical activity and exercise, taking certain oral contraceptives and hormones, being overweight or obese after menopause, and high alcohol consumption all put you at an increased risk for breast cancer.

So what exactly can you do to lower your risk? Exercise, maintain a healthy weight, keeping your alcohol consumption to one drink each day or less, and consult with your physician about the risks related to some oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy. All of these may help lower your risk of getting breast cancer.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

What Every Woman Needs to Know About Ovarian Cancer

Rates of ovarian cancer diagnoses have fallen over the past 20 years, but it’s still the most deadly cancer of the female reproductive system. The disease is expected to kill nearly 14,000 women this year, while more than 22,000 will receive an ovarian cancer diagnosis.

woman consults with her gynecologist in the gynecologist's office

But it doesn’t affect all age groups the same. Ovarian cancer is most common among women between the ages of 50 and 60, and rare among women who are under 40. Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms to look out for:

  • Bloating
  • Feeling full quickly or having trouble eating
  • Pelvic and/or abdominal pain
  • Frequent need to urinate

The American Cancer Society explains that these symptoms often appear for reasons aside from ovarian cancer, but that when caused by ovarian cancer they will be persistent (such as more than 12 times each month) and also outside of the norm for you. Other ovarian cancer symptoms include back pain, fatigue, pain during sexual intercourse, abnormal vaginal bleeding (especially after menopause), abnormal vaginal discharge, constipation, upset stomach, and menstrual cycle changes.

Researchers don’t fully know or understand what causes ovarian cancer, but they do know some of the risk factors associated with it. These include: aging, being obese or overweight, having your first full-term pregnancy after age 35, never having a full-term pregnancy, having in vitro fertilization (IVF), inherited gene mutations, taking estrogen after menopause, and a family history of ovarian cancer. But it’s important to understand that the presence of these risk factors doesn’t mean you’ll get the disease, nor do these risk factors need to be present in order for someone to get the disease.

According to the American Cancer Society, around 94% of patients with ovarian cancer live more than five years after being diagnosed if the diagnosis is made early, yet only around 20% of ovarian cancers are detected at an early stage. Most of the time, ovarian cancer isn’t detected until it’s spread beyond the ovaries into the pelvis and abdomen—a point at which it’s more difficult to treat.

Some of the best ways to work toward early detection and treatment include: yearly women’s health exams that include a pelvic exam, screening tests if you’re a high risk patient for this illness, seeing a doctor if you experience the signs and symptoms outlined above, and discussing your risk factors with a physician, particularly if you have a family history of ovarian and/or breast cancer.

Most ovarian cancer is treated with a combination of surgery (to remove the cancer tissue) and chemotherapy (to kill or shrink the cancer), but the specific treatment will vary from person to person according to their illness and the stage at which it was detected. If you have a family history of this illness, are experiencing any of its signs and symptoms, or have any concerns about ovarian cancer, it’s important to speak with a knowledgeable doctor.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.