I’ve been so busy writing for others that I’m neglecting my own blog, and for that, I’m feeling a bit frustrated. But, all is not lost. Since October is a special month – not only is it my birthday (I love birthdays!) – but it’s the month that, as you well know, brings breast cancer awareness to the forefront.
We are all aware of breast cancer…so why do we need reminding?
For one thing, as a survivor, I always stress the importance of early detection. Since my breast cancer diagnosis came as a complete surprise when I received my first-ever mammogram at 34 (I was checked because of frequent cysts), I urge all women to be aware of their breasts.
Although research has not demonstrated a clear benefit to breast self-exams, you should still be familiar with how your breasts feel and look – and be alert to things like swelling, lumps, masses or any change including redness, scaliness or dimpling in the skin and nipple retraction, pain or discharge.
Many breast cancers have no symptoms, which is why regular screening is so important.
Current American Cancer Society and U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) guidelines recommend annual mammograms for women ages 45 to 54. Women 40-44 should have the choice to be screened by mammograms “if they wish to do so.” For women 55 and older, it’s advised they switch to mammograms every two years, or they “can continue yearly screening.”
If you have a strong family history or other contributing factors, earlier screening tests may be warranted, and an MRI should be added to a mammogram for a more complete screening.
It’s important to be your own advocate. If you’re not happy with what you are told, seek out another opinion. I’m not encouraging you to question or doubt every doctor visit and imaging test, but many times, it’s necessary to follow your gut or do your due diligence and be aware of the facts: Mammograms, while being the best screening device available, does have its limitations. It can read negative, even when breast cancer is present. It can also read positive when there is no cancer. And it can lead to over-diagnosis and over-treatment by finding some cancers that would not otherwise grow or spread, like ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).
Please don’t be put off by the radiation or the discomfort of the test that can save your life. It’s easy to reduce the temporary discomfort: take a pain reliever a couple of hours prior to your appointment; bend your knees slightly to help relax your body; request a foam rubber pad to cushion to hard surface of the machine. As for radiation exposure, many people overestimate their risk. Take a look here to see the facts on radiation.
P.S. If case you’re interested in more information, here are some other breast cancer writings I’ve been busy with:
https://www.everydayhealth.com/breast-cancer/treatment/why-these-women-said-no-breast-reconstruction-after-mastectomy/ (These Women Went Flat After Mastectomy)