- Women's Health
Breast Cancer Awareness
Breast Cancer Awareness
If you are a woman over the age of 40 or have women in your life aged 40 and older, a mammogram should be an essential part of every woman's health care. For the last 25 years, October has been National Breast Cancer Awareness month with Oct. 20 designated as National Mammography Day.
October is the time of year when leaves begin to fall, the temperature begins to cool and many children and adults prepare for trick or treat. It is also the time of year to think about a mammogram. A mammogram? If you have breasts, then you need to take care of them!
October serves as a yearly platform to help promote screening mammograms for detection of Breast Cancer in its earliest stages. Since the inception of Breast Cancer Awareness month, educating women to have their yearly mammograms has increased and breast cancer deaths are on the decline. Men should also educate themselves on this disease, since breast cancer can develop in men too, although it is less common.
Nearly 25 years ago, I was visiting my grandmother. She had a pain in the breast area. She discovered a lump, and our journey with breast cancer began. I was by her side for all her doctor visits. That was my grandma, and she needed me for support as much as I needed her.
There wasn't a lot of information available at that time and there certainly wasn't a way to Google it. We relied on her doctor's recommendations, and after the tests she underwent a double mastectomy followed by radiation therapy. That was a very difficult and stressful time for her.
I often think that if we had more information available to us at that time and more choices to consider, the outcome might have been different. Certainly having a yearly mammogram and going to a facility that specializes in breast care may have helped find the lump sooner.
Every woman over the age of 40 should to take control of their health care and schedule an appointment. If you have insurance, it is often a part of your well-woman benefits. If you don't have insurance, many centers will offer discounts. Check with your local health department office to see if they offer free screening mammograms and check with local nonprofit organizations that also can give referrals for assistance.
Common risk factors
•The risk of breast cancer increases as a woman grows older.
•Women who have had breast cancer and women with a history of breast disease may develop it again.
•The risk of getting breast cancer increases for a woman whose mother, sister, daughter or two or more close relatives had the disease. It is also important to know how old they were when they were diagnosed.
•Early pregnancies, particularly before the age of 25, may help lower the chances of getting breast cancer. Having a first pregnancy after age 35 may increase the risk of breast cancer. Having no children puts women at a higher than average risk.
•The Women's Health Initiative Study (2002) found an increased risk of breast cancer for women while they are on hormone replacement therapy and a short time thereafter, compared to those who have never used postmenopausal HRT.
•Do monthly breast self exams. The American Cancer Society recommends that women 20 and older examine their own breasts every month. Women in their 20s and 30s should also have their breasts examined by their doctors at least every three years. Women over age 40 should have their breasts examined by a doctor annually.
•Get a mammogram. For most women, mammography screening should begin at age 40 and be done every one to two years throughout a woman's lifetime. Talk to your doctor to determine what schedule is right for you.
•Decrease your daily fat intake – especially saturated and hydrogenated fats found in red meat and processed foods.
•Increase fiber in your diet. Fiber is found in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.
•Eat fresh fruits and vegetables. In addition to fiber, fruits and vegetables have antioxidant properties and micro nutrients that may help prevent some cancers.
•Limit alcohol. Evidence suggests that a small increase in risk exists for women who average two or more drinks per day.
•Stay active. The U.S. Surgeon General recently reported that you can help prevent many health problems by engaging in a moderate amount of physical activity (such as taking a brisk, 30-minute walk) on most days of the week.
•Don't smoke. Although smoking doesn't cause breast cancer, it can increase the chance of blood clots, heart disease and other cancers that may spread to the breast.
•Maintain a healthy weight. Excess fat may stimulate estrogen production. Although estrogen doesn't actually cause breast cancer, it may stimulate the growth of cancer cells. Following the lifestyle choices listed above will help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
Scheduling your screening mammogram
•Many women have their yearly mammogram near or on their birthdays so that it's easy to remember.
•Schedule your mammogram after your monthly cycle is over to avoid the usual breast tenderness associated with your menstrual cycle.
•If you are going to a new facility, it's a great idea to bring any previous mammogram films with you to your appointment. Contact the center where you had your last mammogram to pick up films or arrange to have them mailed. This will help the radiologist to compare your films.
•Plan a "mammogram date" with your sisters, friends, neighbors and/or coworkers to have your mammograms around the same time, then treat yourselves and go shopping or out to eat. Remember to have a point of contact person who has everyone's date of birth, addresses and phone numbers so that your center's scheduler can find a date and time to accommodate your group.
•Since all insurance plans are different, make sure you know what your plan covers. In many cases a screening mammogram is covered in full or in part with your well-woman benefits. Call your insurance company to be sure.
•Ask questions. Your mammogram tech is there to help you have as good of an experience as possible. If you feel any discomfort, let your tech know. A mammogram is never a fun experience, but communication is very important so that good images are obtained.
Getting regular screening tests is the best way for women to lower their risk of dying from breast cancer. Screening tests can find breast cancer early, when it's most treatable.