Did you know that one out of eight women will develop breast cancer sometime during their life?
Why do we care about breast health? Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women; and even though it is less prevalent, men can also develop breast cancer. It is important to diagnose breast cancer early because often less aggressive treatments can be used. eliminating the need for mastectomy and chemotherapy. Early detection and treatment also improve chances of survival for 5, 10, or many more years. I can attest to the value of early detection and treatment of breast cancer being a 23-year survivor, having been treated twice for breast cancers that were detected early.
What are the major risk factors? Simply being a woman and over the age of 50 significantly increases the risk for breast cancer. Having a family history is also important.
How is breast cancer diagnosed? A mammogram is a key tool in diagnosing breast cancer early since it often shows abnormalities before there is a noticeable lump or breast change. A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast. The CDC recommends having a mammogram every two years after age 50, or talking to your doctor about when to start mammograms if ;you are ages 40-49. There is a variety of opinions about when and how often to have mammograms, but it is not unusual for a doctor to recommend them annually starting at age 40. These would be in addition to annual breast exams by a health care worker and monthly self-exams. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/breast-exam/about/pac-20393237 explains how to do a self-exam.
What if a mammogram shows a suspicious area? First, do not panic. You will have other tests done that will determine whether it is cancer and the severity. Many times, these additional tests will show that there is no cancer in the area. If it is cancer, treatments may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or hormone treatments. These decisions will be made with the help of your cancer care team who will explain the possible treatments and help you weigh the benefits and risks of each treatment. If caught early, after treatment, women often show no evidence of disease for the rest of their lives.