Breast cancer is the second most common kind of cancer in women. About 1 in 8 women born today in the United States will get breast cancer at some point. Throughout October, women, healthcare professionals and organizations around the world are calling attention to the importance of awareness and early detection of the disease during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The good news is that most women can survive breast cancer if it’s found and treated early. A mammogram – the screening test for breast cancer – can help find breast cancer early when it’s easier to treat.
The National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. (NBCF) offers the following guidelines for when and how often women should get mammograms:
- If you are a woman age 40 to 49, talk with your doctor about when to start getting mammograms and how often to get them.
- If you are a woman age 50 to 74, be sure to get a mammogram every 2 years. You may also choose to get them more often.
- Talk to a doctor about your risk for breast cancer, especially if a close family member of yours had breast or ovarian cancer. Your doctor can help you decide when and how often to get mammograms.
Additionally, women can be proactive by performing a monthly breast self-exam to detect any unusual changes. NBCF recommends doing this simple, three-step exam once a month:
- In the Shower:
Using the pads of your fingers, move around your entire breast in a circular pattern moving from the outside to the center, checking the entire breast and armpit area. Check both breasts each month feeling for any lump, thickening, or hardened knot. Notice any changes and get lumps evaluated by your healthcare provider.
- In Front of a Mirror:
Visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead.Look for any changes in the contour, any swelling, or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples. Next, rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Left and right breasts will not exactly match—few women’s breasts do, so look for any dimpling, puckering, or changes, particularly on one side.
- Lying Down:
When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions covering the entire breast area and armpit.Use light, medium, and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for your left breast.
Awareness and early detection are not just goals for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Women can and should take control of their breast health by talking with their doctors, getting mammograms as advised and performing self exams on a routine basis. To learn more, visit the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s website, where you can download free resources on a variety of topics, such as symptoms of breast cancer, healthy living tips and more.