By Having Regular Screenings and Knowing the Symptoms you can Protect Yourself from Breast Cancer
When breast cancer is found early, the cure rate is much higher. Finding it early often means finding it before you have any signs, or symptoms, of the disease. That's why screenings are so important.
A screening is a test or exam used to find a disease, such as breast cancer, in people who do not have symptoms. But many women still do not get screened or don't get screened as often as they should. Screenings for breast cancer are mammograms and breast exams from your doctor or other healthcare provider. They can help you find breast cancer even before you have symptoms.
Being aware of the signs of breast cancer is also very important. It lets you spot any changes as soon as they happen so you can get care right away.
Risk factors for breast cancer
As the American Cancer Society (ACS) tells us, breast cancer is the second-most common cancer among women in the United States. Only skin cancer is more common. Breast cancer is also the second-leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer. Here are some of the things that may make it more likely that a woman will get breast cancer. The list shows facts from the American Cancer Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Growing older - three-fourths of cases are in women 50 or older
- Being younger than 12 when you had your first period
- Having your first child after age 30
- Never giving birth
- Not breastfeeding
- Menopause after age 55
- A personal history of breast cancer
- Treatment that where you had radiation to the chest
- Being overweight
- Long-term use of hormone replacement therapy
- Using birth control pills
- Drinking more than one alcoholic drink a day
- Not getting regular exercise
Please note that having a risk factor does not mean you will get the disease. All risk factors are not equal. Some have a higher association with breast cancer than others. For example, prolonged exposure over more years to internally produced estrogen or hormones in pills, have a higher association with breast cancer. Remember a risk factor doesn't mean that it necessarily causes cancer. Most women have some risk factors, but most women do not get breast cancer.
What screenings should women have?
There is no unanimous set of recommendations for cancer screening. American Cancer Society, the United States Preventive Services Task Force, and leading universities have not reached agreement on recommendations for women to follow to for screening for breast cancer
Mammograms are simple, low-radiation X-rays of the breast that can detect areas inside the breast that don't look normal. Some studies suggest that having a mammogram as often as your doctor says can reduce breast cancer deaths by 30 percent-but other studies cannot verify that. There are recommendations by some groups for women 40 and older to have a screening mammogram every year to look for breast disease when there are no symptoms. Other scientific bodies make that recommendation for women over age 50, as long as there is no family history of breast cancer.
It all can be very confusing. Women with a higher risk of breast cancer should talk with their doctor about what the best screening plan is for them, such as starting mammograms at an earlier age.
When you do have your mammogram, you will be asked to undress above the waist. The staff will give you a gown or wrap for cover. A technologist, most often a woman, will position your breast for the test. During the mammogram, the breast is placed between two plates to spread the tissue. You may feel a little pressure or pinching but only for a few seconds as each picture is made. The whole process takes about 20 minutes.
Sometimes, more pictures or tests may be needed. This means the doctor wants to take a closer look at something. It does not necessarily mean you have cancer.
Clinical Breast Exams
These are exams done by your doctor or healthcare professional and may be part of your physical. For women in their 20s and 30s, this screening should be done at least every three years. For those in their 40s and older, it should be done every year. This is also a good time to talk to your doctor about breast self-exam.
Breast Self-Exam (BSE)
Checking your breasts regularly helps you get to know how your breasts normally look and feel so it will be easier for you to notice any changes.
What are the signs of breast cancer?
If you have any of these symptoms, talk with your doctor as soon as possible.
- Your breast feels different - A woman may have a painless lump or thickening in the breast or under the arm. Also, note any pain in one spot that does not change with your monthly cycle.
- Your breast looks different - The breast may dimple or start to look like an orange peel. Or there may be a change in its size or shape.
- You see a change in the nipple - It may become red, sore, itchy, or scaly. Or fluid may come from the nipple. It may start suddenly and affect only one breast.
- You notice swelling - redness, or warmth in the breast
How can you reduce your risk?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these tips for lowering your risk of breast cancer.
- Get screened for breast cancer whenever your doctor says
- Exercise and control your weight
- Know your family history of breast cancer and ask your doctor what you can do to lower your risk
- Find out the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy
- Keep your alcohol to one drink a day or less
The easiest, most important steps you can take to protect yourself are to have regular breast cancer screenings and to watch for any changes in your breast.
To learn more, visit the Women's Health Center on My
Humana.com or the American Cancer Society