October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. While the date is a reminder, it’s important that you and your loved ones remain vigilant all year round in performing self-exams and undergoing regular testing. Early diagnosis and intervention save lives.
And, while it appears that more and more women are aware of this, the news is still not good. More than 230,000 women receive the news they have breast cancer every year, and more than 40,000 die from it. Breast cancer doesn’t discriminate – it affects women (and to a far lesser extent men) regardless of age (although it is more likely to occur after menopause), race, religion, or socioeconomic background.
Here are two things to keep in mind:
If you’re a woman over 40, you should have a mammogram every one or two years (depending on your risk). Talk to your doctor about the frequency. If the results of your mammogram are suspicious, the doctor will perform additional tests, such as an ultrasound or MRI. If this shows the mass to be solid, a biopsy is likely to be recommended. This is where tissue from the area is removed and checked for cancer.
By performing monthly breast self-exams, you can more easily identify any changes. These are often the first signs of breast cancer. These changes would include how the breast feels (such as nipple tenderness, a change in skin texture, or a lump in the breast), a change in appearance of the breast or nipple (dimpling, swelling, shrinkage, asymmetry or skin changes), or any nipple discharge (clear or bloody).
Abnormal tissue found early is often easier to treat. By the time symptoms appear, cancer may have begun to spread.