Are Your Nursing Assistants in the Know About Breast Cancer?
With nearly 200 thousand women and almost 2 thousand men diagnosed with breast cancer every year, it’s important that your nursing assistants know the basics about this common disease. Here is some information about who is at risk for breast cancer, the symptoms of the disease, suggestions for helping clients on chemotherapy and more practical tips to help your CNAs assist clients with breast cancer. Feel free to share this information with the nursing assistants at your workplace.
Who Is at Risk for Breast Cancer?
The National Cancer Institute estimates that one out of every eight American women will get breast cancer. Because the exact cause of breast cancer is still unknown, there are no sure ways to prevent it. This means that all women are at risk for developing the disease. However, certain factors increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer, including:
Age: Most breast cancer cases occur in women over the age of 50 and the risk is especially high for women over age 60.
Family History: Being a close blood relative of someone with breast cancer increases the risk.
Reproductive History: For example, the risk increases for women who started their menstrual periods before age 12, developed menopause after age 55, were never pregnant or had their first child after age 30.
Lifestyle: Certain lifestyle choices increase the risk for breast cancer, including:
A high fat diet
Two or more alcoholic drinks per day
Lack of exercise
What are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer?
Typically, early breast cancer does not cause any symptoms or pain. However, as the cancer grows, it can cause changes, including:
A new lump or thickening in or near the breast or underarm area that feels different than the surrounding tissue
A change in the breast size or shape
Dimpling or puckering of the breast skin
Pulling in or puckering of the nipple
Swelling, redness or warmth that does not go away
Pain or tenderness in one spot that does not change during the monthly cycle
A new, sudden nipple discharge that appears only in one breast
An itchy, sore, or scaly area on one nipple
Caring for a Client on Chemotherapy
“Chemo” is used to kill cancer cells that have metastasized throughout the body-meaning they have moved away from the original site of the cancer. Chemotherapy weakens a person’s ability to fight off infection. Keep in mind that handwashing is the best way to stop the spread of germs! In addition, your client may be told to wear a mask when among a crowd of people. IMPORTANT: If you feel sick, wear a mask and gloves…or don’t work with clients on chemo!
Don’t assume that every client will have severe side effects from treatment-some people don’t. (Although worrying about the effects of “chemo” can make the situation worse.)
Skin problems may occur so provide a bath or encourage the client to bathe daily, using mild soap and lotions. The nails require extra attention as they may darken or become brittle. Follow your workplace policy regarding nail care.
Mouth care is extremely important during chemotherapy. Soft toothbrushes help prevent gum damage. Keeping the mouth moist may be a challenge. Try offering lollipops, ice chips and Popsicles.
Hair care should be done delicately. Use only mild shampoos and soft brushes. Gently towel dry the hair-avoid using a hair dryer.