How can you fight breast cancer? Your best chance of fighting the disease is to establish a breast health regimen that focuses on breast awareness, regular screenings to ensure early diagnosis and lowering your risk for developing breast cancer. Breast awareness starts with becoming familiar with your breasts and what they look and feel like normally, then reporting any suspicious breast changes to your health care professional immediately (see "Practice Breast Awareness" below).
Important steps to take:
- If you are in your 20s or 30s, you should have a clinical breast exam (CBE) performed by a health care professional as part of your periodic (regular) exam at least every three years, according to the latest guidelines from the American Cancer Society.
- If you are age 40 or older, the American Cancer Society recommends a screening mammogram every year. Screening mammograms are done on women who have no symptoms of breast cancer. You should also have a clinical breast exam by a health care professional every year. A conventional mammogram, a special, low-dose x-ray, can detect breast cancer up to two years before it can be felt. Researchers are finding that new digital mammograms are potentially more effective in detecting breast tumors. One large study found that digital mammograms were more effective in detecting breast tumors in women under 50 and in women with dense breast tissue. Before you schedule a mammogram, be sure to ask if the mammogram facility is accredited by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means that it meets high professional standards of safety and quality. Visit the FDA's Web site at www.fda.gov/cdrh/mammography/certified.html to find a list of certified radiology centers.
Most insurance companies cover the cost of mammograms. If your insurance company does not, or you are uninsured, there are other options to explore. In many areas of the country, low-cost or free mammograms are provided as part of the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) or through community organizations, such as the YWCA. To find out more about whether there is a NBCCEDP program in your locale, contact the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636), TTY: 1-888-232-6348 or on the Internet at www.cdc.gov.
In addition, in October each year, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, many radiology facilities offer mammography at a reduced rate. To find out how to get a low-cost or free mammogram or to find a certified radiology center in your area, call the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation's National Toll-Free Breast Care Helpline at 1-877-GO-KOMEN (877-465-6636).
And the American Cancer Society provides information on facilities that offer low-cost mammograms. Call 1-800-ACS-2345 (1-800-227-2345) to find facilities in your area.
- If you are at increased risk for breast cancer, talk with your health care professional about whether or not you should start having mammograms before age 40. If you are at a high risk (greater than 20 percent lifetime risk), the American Cancer Society recommends you get a mammogram and an MRI every year. Certain factors—including whether any family members have had breast cancer (and at what age), your reproductive history, a personal history of breast cancer and other factors—can raise breast cancer risk. You can modify some of these risks, but others you can't. The best way to determine your individual risk is to talk with your health care professional.
- Practice breast awareness on an ongoing basis. Your breasts are complex organs that undergo normal changes throughout your lifetime due to hormonal fluctuations at puberty, during various phases of your menstrual cycle, during pregnancy and breastfeeding, at menopause and during the years beyond. Beginning in your 20s, you should discuss the benefits of doing a monthly breast self-exam (BSE) with your health care professional. (For step-by-step instructions on how to do a BSE, click here). If you are familiar with your breasts, what they feel and look like normally, it will be easier for you to notice any changes.
Finding a breast change does not mean there is cancer, but you should not delay in having it checked out by a health care professional. The types of breast changes to be on the lookout for include:
- Changes in size, shape or skin texture
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk
- Nipple scaliness
- Nipple pain or retraction (turning inward)
- Irregular thickening of breast tissue
- Skin dimpling, redness or warmth
If you are unsure how to perform a breast self-exam, ask your health care professional to show you. Your monthly breast self-exam should be done on the same day every month, preferably a week after the start of your menstrual period, when your breasts are least likely to be tender or swollen. If you do not menstruate, conduct your self-exam on the same day of every month. Be sure to give yourself both a visual and physical (touching) exam from several angles.
- Maintain your ideal body weight and exercise regularly. Some risk factors for breast cancer are out of your control, such as being female, over age 55, genetic make-up and certain environmental exposures. However, there are some lifestyle choices that are associated with breast cancer that you can control:
- Limit alcohol—The use of alcohol is clearly linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Compared with women who do not drink, women who consume one alcoholic beverage a day have a very small increase in risk, and those who have two to five drinks daily have about one-and-a-half times the risk of women who drink no alcohol. The American Cancer Society recommends limiting your consumption of alcohol.
- Maintain a healthy weight—Obesity (being overweight) has been found to be a risk for breast cancer in all studies, especially for women after menopause.
- Stay physically active—There is mounting evidence that doing some form of exercise reduces breast cancer risk. The American Cancer Society recommends engaging in 45 to 60 minutes of intentional physical activity such as brisk walking five or more days a week.
For more information on risk factors, diagnosis and treatment options for breast cancer, visit the HealthyWomen Health Center at http://www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/breast.
© 2013. National Women's Health Resource Center, Inc. All rights reserved. All content provided in this guide is for information purposes only. Any information herein relating to specific medical conditions, preventive care and/or healthy lifestyles does not suggest individual diagnosis or treatment and is not a substitute for medical attention.Back to Breast Cancer Awareness Guide Home Page
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