Almost two years ago, I was terrified as my mother let us all know that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is such a strong woman, and the thought of not having her here was the scariest moment I ever had to face. Through the grace of God and her willingness to fight through the overwhelming treatments, she just celebrated her first anniversary of being cancer free. At her celebration lunch yesterday, she spoke about the importance of early detection.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month, so we are doing our part to educate our community by covering the best practices around early detection and information on when to visit your doctor. Because this disease is the second leading cause of death among women, early discovery is essential to saving lives and can increase your 5-year survival rate by 99%. So, what can you do to protect your health against breast cancer? Read on to learn more about the initial signs of breast cancer and how to guard your well-being by adopting the following tips.
1. PRACTICE ROUTINE SELF-EXAMS
We recommend paying close attention to any changes in your breasts by performing monthly self-exams that help you become more aware of any potential warning signs. If you are new to self-exams, here are a few basics to know:
- Look at your breasts in the mirror. Pay attention to any potential signs in the skin texture like dimpling, indentations, or other skin abnormalities.
- Raise your arms above your head and look for any visible changes in skin texture or any discharge.
- While lying on your back or in the shower, check for any noticeable lumps using a firm, smooth touch. Make sure to examine the armpit area as your breast tissue extends into that part of your body.
If you find a lump, don’t panic. Some women develop lumps or cysts that are completely benign. If you have any questions, please make an appointment to discuss your concerns with your doctor.
2. KNOW YOUR RISKS AND FAMILY HISTORY
To assess your risk of breast cancer, it’s essential to know your family’s medical history. Family history is split into two categories, first-degree relatives (parents and siblings) and second-degree relatives (aunts and cousins).
Women with a history of breast cancer in their family are at a much higher risk of developing the disease. Some studies suggest that your chances may double if a first-degree relative has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Be sure to communicate with your practitioner about any family history of breast cancer to understand generational risks that may exist. Doctors can also help you develop a screening plan and recommend healthy lifestyle tips.
3. VISIT YOUR DOCTOR REGULARLY
Women should see their health provider once a year for an annual exam, which often includes a pap-smear, a routine pelvic exam, and a breast exam. Use this time to talk with your doctor about any health concerns, family history, and wellness options. If you notice any changes in your breasts, lumps, or other signs associated with breast cancer, you don’t need to wait until your next annual exam. Make an appointment with your NWPC care provider as soon as you can.
4. KNOW WHEN TO GET A MAMMOGRAM
Mammograms are crucial to detecting breast cancer early. A low-level x-ray, these non-invasive tests can detect cancer three years before you feel a mass. When and how often you should receive a mammogram depends on your age and medical history. According to the U.S. Preventative Task Force, their recommended guidelines for breast cancer screening using traditional mammography are:
- Women between the ages of 40 and 49 may choose to begin their biennial mammogram schedule, especially if there is a family history of breast cancer.
- Women ages 50-74 should get a mammogram every two years.
- Women 75 and older may choose to continue receiving mammograms, although the net benefits of screenings past this age are unknown.
Talk with your health care provider to determine your breast cancer risk factors to develop the best screening plan for you.
5. FOLLOW-UP AFTER A SCREENING TEST
If you have an abnormal result from your mammogram, you may need follow-up tests to determine its cause. You doctor will typically recommend follow-up tests like:
- Breast Ultrasound: Your doctor may do a breast ultrasound that can help determine if the abnormal finding is a benign cyst or has the appearance of a cancerous mass.
- Breast MRI: Your doctor may order an MRI if the result appears cancerous or if you have a family history of breast cancer.
- Breast Biopsy: Your doctor will require a biopsy if a lump appears cancerous.
An abnormal mammogram might be nothing to worry about and could result from a benign breast condition. If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, there are many options for treatment. With the help of early detection, diagnosis, and treatment, women have a higher chance of beating breast cancer.
Early detection is the only reason I can celebrate my mother's triumph over this disease. Please make sure you arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can. I know it is scary, but people love you and need you to be aware.
Referenced from the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) Breast V.2.2021.