October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
When we all get busy and preoccupied with other things, it is easy to forget the things we need to do for ourselves, including the tests and other measures that help catch and prevent breast cancer.
Most of us know those who have beaten breast cancer. In the U.S. alone, there are more than 2 million breast cancer survivors. This may give some a false sense of security, making it less likely they will take preventative measures.
The fact remains, however, that when breast cancer is caught at its earliest stages, the survival rate is 98 percent. A number like that should be motivation to get a regular mammogram and other screenings.
Almost 200,000 Americans will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and, sadly, more than 40,000 will die from the disease. In Tennessee alone, almost 4,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and more than 900 will die from the disease.
As October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it is a great time to recommit to your breast health, as well as remind friends and family to have their screenings.
The combination of monthly breast self-exams, yearly clinical breast exams, and regular mammograms beginning at age 40 is the best way to detect breast cancer in its earlier and most treatable stages.
- Breast Self-Exam (BSE): Every woman should check once a month for physical changes. If you are unsure of how to perform a breast self-exam, ask your health care provider to demonstrate and explain the ideal time to conduct one. It is very important for women aged 20 and up to learn what feels normal.
- Clinical Breast Exam (CBE): Be sure to ask your health care provider to give you a clinical breast exam each year. The exam consists of checking for any changes, lumps or other possible warning signs of breast cancer through physical touch and appearance. You should begin having clinical breast exams in your 20’s and 30’s.
- Mammography: Beginning at age 40, all women should have an annual mammogram. It is a good idea to have a baseline mammogram at age 35. The mammogram is an “x-ray” of the breast and is the most effective method of detecting breast changes that may be cancer, long before physical symptoms can be seen or felt.
It is also important to know that while all men and women are at risk, some women are at higher risk. Age itself is a risk factor for breast cancer; about 77 percent of the women diagnosed are over the age of 50. Also at higher risk are women with family histories of breast cancer, women with inherited abnormal genes, women who have previously had cancer in one breast, and obese women with sedentary lifestyles.
Breast cancer is often detected in its earliest stage as an abnormality on a mammogram before it can be felt by a woman or by her health care provider. The following may occur when a cancer has grown to the point where physical signs and symptoms are present: breast lump or thickening; swelling, redness or tenderness; skin or nipple changes in color or texture; dimpling or puckering of the skin; nipple pain, discharge, scaliness or retraction; and, lumps under the armpit area. If you experience any of these symptoms, see your health care provider immediately.
Some other common-sense prevention tips – for breast care and general health – are to eat a low-fat diet, exercise regularly, and not smoke. If you suspect you are at high risk for the disease, talk to your health care provider. With the strides being made in prevention, there are drugs available to help prevent breast cancer, even for those in higher-risk categories.
Don’t let complacency get to you: talk to your doctor about your risk for breast cancer, and any screenings you should be having.
If you would like additional information on cancer prevention, please visit www.preventcancer.org.
About Betty Ann Tanner
Betty Ann Tanner is the wife of Congressman John Tanner and a member of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program of the Prevent Cancer Foundation. The organization recently recognized Betty Ann with its Congressional Family Leadership award.