Many of you may have heard at some point about how early detection of breast cancer (or of any cancer) can save your life. It may seem like smoke and mirrors, but I am proof positive that early detection can save your life. I was diagnosed with invasive ductal breast cancer, the most common form of breast cancer, at the end of May. I am 36 years old. Since many organizations recommend that a woman have a baseline mammogram around age 35 and because I work in a radiology clinic, where I could get one done for free, I decided to go ahead and get one.
I have no family history of breast cancer and no risk factors. In fact, had I not worked at my current job, I wouldn’t have had a mammogram until age 40, as I was completely unaware that one should have a baseline mammogram. Being honest, breast cancer is not something that I ever thought I would personally get or that anyone in my family would be afflicted with. Even with that line of thinking, my decision to have a mammogram was the best one I have ever made. My life has been saved because of it. Had I waited until age 40 to have a mammogram, my prognosis would have been pretty grim. So, what can you do to potentially save your life? Here are some tips:
Know your family history of breast cancer and risk factors. Some of the risk factors are things that you can not change such as being a woman. This is because the breast cells of a woman are constantly exposed to the female hormones of estrogen and progesterone. Aging is also something one can’t change, as risk increases at age 55. According to the American Cancer Society, Having one first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer approximately doubles a woman’s risk. Having two first-degree relatives increases her risk about 5 times. If you have a personal history of breast cancer, the risk of developing a new cancer in the same breast or other breast is tripled. It may be good to know the exact risk is not known, but women with a family history of breast cancer in a father or brother also have an increased risk of breast cancer. Altogether, about 20% to 30% of women with breast cancer have a family member with this disease. Lifestyle risk factors can include not ever having children or having them after age 30, having started your menstrual cycle before age 12 and or starting menopause after age 55. Sedentary lifestyle, being overweight or obese, excessive alcohol use, not breast feeding and using post-menopausal hormone therapy are also risk factors. Some studies have shown that recent oral contraceptive use can also increase risk.
Get a baseline digital mammogram with computer aided detection review (CAD) between the ages of 35 to 40. After the age of 40, be sure to schedule a yearly mammogram. If you are at high risk for developing breast cancer, you may need to obtain digital mammograms earlier than this, but you need to discuss this with your healthcare provider. Why a digital mammogram with CAD review instead of an analog mammogram? Digital mammography works better at detecting abnormalities in dense breasts, takes less time than an analog mammogram and allows the radiologist who is reading the film to manipulate the images of the breast that can be seen on a computer screen. CAD uses a digitized mammographic image to search for abnormalities of the breast and alerts the need for further analysis. This can discover breast cancer in a treatable stage, like mine was. In fact, had I had an analog mammogram, the mass in my breast would not have been seen.
Perform monthly breast self exams (BSE). This is important because depending on certain factors, a small percentage of breast cancer is not found via mammography. Also have your healthcare provider do a clinical breast exam (CBE) during your regularly scheduled check up in addition to having a baseline and yearly mammograms. The best time to perform a BSE is a few days after your monthly cycle.
If you are having any pain or problems in your breast area, discuss this with your healthcare provider. Let him/her know of hormone use, any prior surgeries, and family/personal history of breast cancer. Generally, the best time is one week following your menstrual cycle. Make sure to inform your healthcare provider and or mammogram technologist if there is any possibility that you are pregnant.
Know your body. You are the one who knows your body the best and knows what’s right and what’s wrong. Don’t hesitate to get immediate medical care if you feel an abnormality (pain or lumps) in your breast area or any other body part for that matter!
Exercise. It is believed that getting at least four hours or more of exercise per week can significantly reduce hormone levels. The benefit of this may be the greatest in premenopausal women, but exercise can benefit everyone. Be sure to check with your doctor before embarking on any exercise program.
Best of Health to you and remember to always Fight Like a Girl!
This article is intended to convey general educational information and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.