You’ve probably already heard about it, but October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The National Breast Cancer Foundation says that 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, and nearly 40,000 women die from it annually. BreastCancer.org says that 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop an invasive form of breast cancer during her lifetime. One of the best ways to fight breast cancer and ensure that you’ve got a chance to kick is it early detection. Early detection means giving yourself regular self-examinations, and seeing your doctor regularly for mammograms. Are you aware of breast cancer?
Conduct Regular Self-Examinations
The National Breast Cancer Foundation recommends that women conduct a Breast Self Exam, or BSE, every month. You can do a self-exam in the shower, in front of a mirror, or lying down, and it only takes a few minutes. There are some great instructions and tips for a BSE at the National Breast Cancer Foundation website.
Basically, you massage your breasts in small circular patterns, checking for any lumps, hard knots, thickening or irregularities you can feel. At the same time, look for swelling, dimpling of the skin, changes in the nipples, or discharge. 8 out of 10 lumps that you discover in a self-exam are benign, but you must go to the doctor if you find a lump to have it examined. Early detection is key to fighting breast cancer.
See Your Doctor Regularly for Mammograms
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breasts designed to help identify and diagnose breast cancer. Screening mammograms can help find breast cancer in asymptomatic women, and diagnostic mammograms can help doctors determine whether breast lumps or irregularities may be breast cancer.
Women age 40 and older should schedule a screening mammogram every 1 to 2 years. Women under 40 may be advised to get mammograms at various points to establish a baseline, or if they have additional risk or symptoms of breast cancer. The recommendations for mammograms for women under 40 vary by doctor.
If you find a lump, a doctor may send you for a diagnostic mammogram. A diagnostic mammogram can help doctors determine whether lumps are tumors, and can help pinpoint whether or not further testing may be needed.
Even if you do have a tumor, it does not mean you have breast cancer. 8 out of 10 tumors are benign. A doctor may order a biopsy of the tumor or other diagnostic tests to determine whether a tumor is breast cancer or benign.
Be Aware of Risk Factors
Some risk factors can heighten your chance of developing breast cancer. A personal or family history of breast cancer typically indicates heightened risk. Certain inherited genes may indicate a predisposition to develop breast cancer. Certain elements of your reproductive and menstrual history, menopausal hormone therapy and radiation therapy can also increase your risk of developing breast cancer. The next time you go in for your annual physical, talk with your doctor to see whether you have any of these factors that can indicate an increased risk for breast cancer, and develop an aggressive examination schedule for early detection.