October is breast cancer awareness month. Each year 220,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer. “You have breast cancer” are words that no woman wants to hear. If caught early, however, 98% of these cancers are curable.
I challenge you to take control of the situation. Develop an action plan. First, learn your family history. Learn of risk factors for breast cancer and modify them if they apply to you. Do monthly self exams. We are human and life gets busy. We tend to forget to due the simplest things. I had an professor in medical school who suggested that every time the phone bill came that it should serve as a reminder to perform a self exam.
Learn what is normal and what is not. Learn the specifics of your breasts. Learn what lumps are new and which ones are just a part of your normal anatomy. It is only when you feel something out of the ordinary can you rightfully be alarmed.
As part of your yearly physical exam make sure your clinician does a complete breast exam. If a breast exam is not been happening as part of your annual exam, its time to get a new clinician. Having an independent examination to confirm what you have been feeling can put thinks in perspective and educate you on what you are feeling.
Once you reach the age of 40 you should be getting a yearly mammogram. If you have family members who developed breast cancer at young ages you may want to start yearly mammograms earlier, say at age 35. Mammograms are only a screening test. Not all cancers are easily seen on these xrays. Mammograms are but one part of the action plan to be watchful.
Today, genetic testing can identify people who have gene mutations that makes them at extreme risk for developing cancer. Tomorrow scientists may be able to test for several more genetic mutations that could lead to higher risk of breast cancer or other diseases.
If a new lump or skin change is confirmed by your clinician, further tests may be recommended such as a ultrasound or MRI. Ultimately, if the suspicion remains high a biopsy will be performed.
If a breast cancer is confirmed on biopsy a treatment plan needs to be created. This plan will outline any further testing such a laboratory test for hormone receptors, further imaging such as a PET scan and visits to other doctors such as general surgeon, and plastic surgeon to discuss surgical treatment of the disease and if necessary breast reconstruction.
Take control and develop your action plan today.