You should do a breast exam, no matter how healthy you feel.
Procrastination is human nature, especially when it comes to unpleasant tasks. And what could be more unpleasant than going for a mammogram? Well, there’s at least one thing that’s worse: breast cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates approximately 246 660 women will be newly diagnosed with an invasive form of the disease this year. Technological improvements have been steadily reducing the lethality of breast cancer, but it remains the second leading cause of cancer-related death in American women. Part of why it’s so deadly is because there are nearly no symptoms in the early stages, which means people often don’t know they have it until it has progressed. It’s also important to note that breast cancer occurs in men too, although at much lower rates. The good news is there are a few things you can do, regardless of your gender, to take care of your health and reduce your risk of getting breast cancer.
- Do regular self-examinations. This is your first line of defense against breast cancer, especially because certain symptoms take a while to show up. There’s no reason not to do a self-exam; it’s free and easy and only takes a moment. The National Breast Cancer Foundation suggests women check at least once a month, and offers a fantastic guide to walk you through it.
- Know your family history. According to the US National Library of Medicine while most cases of the disease aren’t genetically linked, your genes can influence your likelihood of developing breast cancer. In particular, your chances of a positive diagnosis increase if one of your parents has a specific gene mutation. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re guaranteed to get cancer if you inherit the same mutation, but it’s important to be aware of this possible risk and inform your doctor if you have it.
- Trust in screening technologies. Mammograms and MRIs are very powerful methods of detecting cancer. Even though self-exams are effective they can fail to reach the more obscure tissue that mammograms and MRIs are designed to reveal. Women in their 50s or who are at increased risk should strongly consider annual screening.
- Take preventative measures. Try to eliminate whatever risk factors you can from your lifestyle and incorporate healthier habits into your day. The Mayo Clinic recommends managing your weight, doing more physical activity (cardio and strength training), as well as cutting back on drinking alcohol and smoking. If you feel all these changes might be overwhelming, identify just one or two areas you want to begin with and take gradual steps from there.
- Talk to your doctor. There’s only so much advice you can get from the internet. If you have any concerns or are not sure if you need a mammogram, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with a healthcare provider who can give you individualized and detailed information about your personal health.
More on preventative health
LifeSpeak offers a comprehensive library of resources on preventative health measures, including breast cancer prevention and management. If you’re a LifeSpeak user you already have access to our complete library, otherwise you can access a sample of our resources here.
Also published on Medium.