Breast Cancer Awareness month is not just about wearing pink, raising funds for research, and participating in events. This month would not be complete unless the awareness drawn did not reflect on us personally. Everyone should know and understand the risk factors associated with breast cancer. It is important that we use this time to make sure we consider our family history, start or keep up a self breast examination, and schedule screenings if it has been some time since our last. A proactive response to this disease can help with early detection and provide more options for a successful treatment.
Family history is an important factor associated with breast cancer. If there is a family history of this disease, particularly with a close female relative like a mother, sister, or daughter, this can double the risk of the disease. It is important for you to talk with your doctor about whether your family history puts you at a higher risk. Your doctor may decide that earlier than average screenings is an appropriate measure.
Other risk factors associated with breast cancer include obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. Women who have had multiple pregnancies or breastfed are thought to be at a lower risk for breast cancer, while those who consume higher levels of alcohol or take oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy may put women at a higher risk. It is important to consult a doctor about your entire overall health and lifestyle to determine your risk level.
Self breast examinations are an important way for us to become aware of how our breasts typically look so we can determine if there are any changes. Monthly self exams are easy to perform and to make it easier to remember, time it around another monthly event like the onset of menstruation or even paying a bill. Be aware of any change in the breast like a lump, appearance (size, shape, rash, swelling), sudden discharge, isolated pain, and more.
When women begin seeing a gynecologist in their teens or early twenties, they will receive a clinical breast exam at least every three years until they are 40. At 40 years of age, a clinical breast exam every year is recommended. Women at normal risk should start getting a mammogram at the age of 40, while women with a higher risk should start earlier. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that helps to detect any abnormal breast tissue that can be too small to feel during a breast exam.
According to the American Cancer Society, finding breast cancer early is important to successful treatment. When the cancer is detected in the early stage, it is typically small and isolated to the breast. As time goes on, cancer can grow and spread to other parts of the body making treatment options more complex and the prognosis uncertain.
By staying on top of routine exams and understanding your risk level for breast cancer, you can keep on top of your health. Remind others they need to do the same - for themselves and their families.
"Breast Self Awareness." ww5.komen.org
"Breast Cancer: Early Detection." Cancer.org
"Risk Factors and Prevention." ww5.komen.org