October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and is a great time for women to recommit to putting their health first. It is also a reminder for women of all ages to be vigilant about their breast health. In 2014, it is estimated that there will be over 230,000 diagnosed cases of invasive breast cancer, not including cases of recurrence. Young women are not immune to this disease – approximately 5% of all breast cancer diagnoses will involve women under the age of 40.
Women of all ages need to take the time to know their risks and decide on the preventative exams that work best for them. There are four simple steps to help women make the most informed decision regarding their health.
Know Your Risk. Family history is a risk factor for developing breast cancer, so make sure you know your risk factors on both sides of your family. Also, speak to your doctor regarding your personal risk. If you carry the BRAC1 or BRAC2 gene mutation, you may be at a higher risk for developing breast cancer.
Get Screened. Ideally, women should have a clinical breast exam performed by their physician once every 3 years beginning at the age of 20. You will also want to discuss with your doctor what types of screening would be most appropriate for your situation. Screening options include mammography, mammography with MRI, or ultrasound. If you are at higher risk for developing breast cancer, you’ll want to decide with your doctor on your screening timeline.
Know Your Normal. Paying attention to your body may be an important line of defense against breast cancer. Know what is normal for you and when you should alert your physician. Warning signs may include a lump, hard knot, or thickening inside the breast or underarm area; swelling, warmth, or redness of the breast; changes in size or shape of the breast; discharge; or new pain in one spot that doesn’t go away. These along with other symptoms may warrant a visit to your doctor.
Make Healthy Lifestyle Choices. Certain risk factors, like family history or ethnicity, are unavoidable. There are choices you can make to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle. Obesity is a risk factor, so it is important to maintain a healthy weight. If you are currently sedentary, start incorporating more physical activity into your daily life. Include more fruits and vegetables in your diet, and cut back on your alcohol intake. Breastfeeding has also been shown to help reduce cancer risk.
There are many important factors that will play into screening and possible treatment options. The sooner breast cancer can be detected, the better the chances for survival will be. There are many strides that are being made in research, detection, and treatment of breast cancer. You and your doctor will be able to best strategize the screenings and treatments that work best for you. At the end of the day, it is important that you take charge of your health and encourage other women in your life to take charge of theirs, as well.
“Breast Cancer Statistics.” Susan G. Komen Foundation. 2014. Available at http://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/Statistics.html. Accessed July 29, 2014.
“Risk Factors and Risk Reduction.” Susan G. Komen Foundation. 2013. Available at http://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/LowerYourRisk.html. Accessed July 29, 2014.
“Take Care of Yourself.” Susan G. Komen Foundation. 2013. Available at http://www.shopkomen.com/PDF/KOMEED006100.pdf. Accessed July 29, 2014.
“Warning Signs of Breast Cancer.” Susan G. Komen Foundation. 2014. Available at http://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/WarningSigns.html. Accessed July 29, 2014.