October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. You might have guessed: Department stores are displaying lots of pink items, and football players are rocking the pink sneakers for the month of October. Breast cancer awareness is quite widespread; whether you’re buying yogurt or posting on Facebook, you’ll see lots of pink ribbons and other markers indicating that people know about and are talking about this disease.
Unfortunately, chances are good that you know someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, over 252,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. One in eight women will develop breast cancer at some point during their lives. The good news is that if it’s caught early, while it’s still in the localized stage, the five-year survival rate is 98 percent. This is why early detection is key. Here are some good pointers to keep in mind in order to keep yourself as healthy as possible:
- Breast self-exams Although these are not officially recommended as a breast cancer screening tool, knowing what your breasts feel like will help you be more aware of any changes that might take place. The best time to examine your breasts is after your period ends; this is when your progesterone levels are the lowest. On or about day 7 of your cycle (with the first day of your period counting as the first day of your cycle), feel both breasts to check for lumps and bumps. Let your doctor know if you feel anything out of the ordinary, including any new lumps, scaly skin, sores on the skin, dimpling or puckering on the skin, nipple discharge, redness, warmth, or any pain that isn’t related to your cycle and that doesn’t go away.
- Clinical exams You should see your doctor each year for a physical examination (this is the case even though you may not need a Pap smear each year, depending on your age and reproductive history). This exam should include a clinical breast exam. If you don’t see your gynecologist each year, your primary care physician can do this for you.
- Mammograms Women without a personal or family history of breast cancer should usually start getting mammograms every year or two starting at age 40. If one of your relatives had breast cancer, your doctor may recommend that you have screening mammograms starting at an earlier age.
If you have medical insurance, clinical exams as well as mammograms should be covered. If you don’t have insurance, ask at your doctor’s office, health department or local Planned Parenthood; many organizations are offering free breast screenings during the month of October as well as at other times of the year. When it comes to breast cancer, early detection is key, and gives you the best possible chance at a long, healthy, cancer-free life in the future. Remember that with so many new treatment options, a breast cancer diagnosis does not equal a death sentence!
Schedule your clinical breast exam or mammogram today in order to boost your chances of being around for a long time, and please share this information with your friends and family members!