In honor of National Cancer Prevention month, we’re providing tips on how individuals can better protect themselves in the fight against breast cancer. Next to lung cancer, breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer in American women¹. While breast cancer cannot be prevented, there are protective factors that women can take to reduce risk. In addition to building healthy habits², which can include: maintaining a healthy weight, striving for 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week, eating fruits and vegetables, not smoking and limiting alcohol consumption, an invaluable area of focus is early detection. Here are three early detection tips for breast cancer.
The best protection against breast cancer is early detection and an excellent place to start is by becoming extremely familiar with the look and feel of your own breasts. Practicing breast self-awareness can help catch changes and abnormalities early on. This can be achieved in normal day-to-day activities, such as bathing, shaving, applying lotion and changing. An added reminder to become extra aware of your breasts is to “feel it on the first,” which means to routinely self-check your breasts on the first of each month. When conducting a visual check, look to ensure breasts are: their usual size, shape and color. Be mindful of any new redness, rash, dimpling, nipple discharge or crusting. When conducting physical checks, place your opposite hand on your opposite breast and armpit area. With fingers placed flat and together, press down with light to firm pressure to feel for lumps, thickening, hardened knots or any other breast changes.
Menstruation may affect breast tenderness, and even in certain instances lumps, therefore self-exams are best performed days after menstruation ends³. If you notice any changes, don’t hesitate to call your doctor! As the MD Anderson Cancer Center states, “Most breast cancers are discovered by women during regular daily activities like bathing, shaving or scratching. Knowing how your breasts look and feel and being alert for the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, like a lump, can help you detect the disease early, when it’s easiest to treat.”
Following MD Anderson’s screening recommendations, women who are at average risk for breast cancer should get a clinical breast exam every one to three years between the ages of 25 to 39, and get a mammogram and clinical breast exam every year at age 40 and older.
The screening recommendations below apply to average-risk women. Women at increased risk may need different tests or may need to be tested more often. Age 25 to 39: Get a clinical breast exam every one to three years. Age 40 and older: Get a mammogram and clinical breast exam every year. Women with an increased risk, such as those who have a first-degree relative with breast cancer, may begin to test at the same age or earlier, alternating between a screening mammogram and screening MRI every 6 months depending upon the patient’s circumstances⁴.
While life, especially during COVID, can present obstacles in scheduling your regular mammogram, it only takes about an hour of your day and the test itself is accomplished in minutes. Begin giving yourself the gift of self-care this year and schedule your mammogram on or around your birthday. Helpful resources for mammograms in the local Austin area include: Austin Radiological Association and Austin Breast Imaging.
In addition to screenings and mammograms, genetic testing allows women to find out if they’re at risk for developing breast cancer and gives them the ability to choose surgery before a diagnosis. After her sister was diagnosed with stage 1A breast cancer, patient Allison Mack, shares her story of finding out she was a genetic carrier for Chek2, which is similar to the BRCA gene, a couple years later. Armed with this information and the recommendation of her oncologist, Allison had a double mastectomy. “I used the latest research, very intelligent doctors, prayers and conversations with loved ones to make this prophylactic decision to remove my breasts and reduce the constant fear. I am at peace with my decision,” Allison shares. Read her full story in the AustinMoms blog.
This National Cancer Prevention month, set the goal to remain proactive about your health. When found early, the chances for successfully treating breast cancer are the greatest⁵ and by scheduling your annual mammograms, you can inspire your friends and family members to do the same.