October is breast cancer awareness month. So now is a great time to raise your own awareness of breast cancer, to make sure you’re up to date on your screening and to think about steps you can take to lower your risk of breast cancer.
But first, let’s start with the good news.
The good news is that global awareness of breast cancer has never been higher than it is today and women diagnosed with breast cancer are living longer than ever before. The introduction of new drugs, better detection methods and targeted therapies are giving more hope to more women diagnosed with this disease.
But there is still more work to do. Breast cancer remains the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the United States and it is estimated that each year, over 200,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer .
Breast cancer screening
Are you up to date on your screenings?
The national breast cancer screening guidelines vary from one medical authority to the next. At P&M, we follow the American Cancer Society . So be sure to speak with your provider about this. But the general theme is as follows:
- Women between 40 and 44 – Have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year. This option should be discussed in further detail with your P&M provider.
- Women 45 to 54 – Should get mammograms every year.
- Women 55 and older – Can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms.
NOTE: These guidelines are for women at average risk for breast cancer. A woman is considered to be at average risk if she doesn’t have a personal history of breast cancer, a strong family history of breast cancer, or a genetic mutation known to increase risk of breast cancer (such as in a BRCA gene), and has not had chest radiation therapy before the age of 30 .
Do not fall behind on your screenings. The earlier cancer is detected (before it spreads to other parts of the body), the better the chances of survival. If you’re not up to date on your screenings, be sure to make an appointment and see a P&M provider to get back on track.
Remind yourself of the symptoms of breast cancer
Most women are already familiar with the common signs and symptoms of breast cancer but this is a good opportunity to remind yourself of them again. They include :
- A new lump or mass. Look for a painless, hard mass that has irregular edges
- Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no distinct lump is felt)
- Skin irritation or dimpling (sometimes looking like an orange peel)
- Breast or nipple pain
- Nipple retraction (turning inward)
- Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
- Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
If you notice any of these symptoms or see a change in your breast or nipples from what you consider to be ‘normal’ (for you), be sure to make an appointment to see a P&M provider.
Steps you can take to lower your risk of breast cancer
The causes of breast cancer are not fully known but research shows that age, gender and your lifetime exposure to estrogen play a role in its development.
Although we don’t have a perfect understanding of why some people get breast cancer and others don’t, we do know that there are certain steps you can take that might reduce your risk, such as :
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Adding exercise into your daily routine
- Limiting alcohol intake
- Breastfeeding, if you can
There is no perfect roadmap to avoiding breast cancer but some of the steps above can help lower your chances of developing it -in addition to improving your overall health!
Use breast cancer awareness month as an excuse to remind yourself of the symptoms and to get back on track with your screening if you weren’t already. When it comes to breast cancer, knowledge of symptoms and regular screening are the best tools we have to fight it.
1) National Breast Cancer Foundation. Facts About Breast Cancer In The United States
2) American cancer society. Breast Cancer Signs and Symptoms. Last Medical Review July 1, 2017.
3) Susan G. Koman foundation. Breast Cancer Facts.
4) American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society Recommendations for the Early Detection of Breast Cancer. Last Medical Review: September 1, 2017.
Physicians and Midwives is a unique collaborative practice you won’t find anywhere else. We have 5 offices for your convenience all across Northern Virginia, including Alexandria, North Arlington, Mt. Vernon, Kingstowne, and Woodbridge. If you would like to be listened to, as well as cared for, then look no further.