It is estimated that one out of every eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer in the course of her life. Although the number of deaths from the disease has been declining, breast cancer causes more deaths in American women than any cancer other than lung cancer. Early detection is a powerful weapon against the disease. Whether you're 20 years old or 70, there are steps you can take to detect breast cancer early, giving yourself a better chance of beating the disease.
Three types of screening
In its early phases, breast cancer often doesn't cause pain or easily noticeable symptoms. That's why it can be so important to check for breast cancer even if you feel fine.
• Breast self-exam. Beginning at age 20, you may consider starting a routine of breast self-exam, which means checking your own breasts and underarms once a month for lumps or changes in size and shape. The more familiar you are with the feel of your natural tissue, the more likely you are to notice changes. Be sure to report any changes to your doctor right away.
• Clinical breast exam. A clinical breast exam is done by a doctor or nurse who uses his or her hands to feel for lumps or abnormalities. Women ages 20 to 39 should schedule a clinical breast exam at least once every three years. At age 40, talk to your doctor about beginning a regimen of yearly clinical breast exams.
• Mammogram. A mammogram, or X-ray of the breasts, is the best method for detecting breast cancer before there are outward signs. Having regular mammograms can lower your risk of dying from breast cancer. For women ages 40 and older, the National Cancer Institute recommends a mammogram every one to two years. Your doctor can help you develop a schedule that takes into account your family history, the findings of previous screenings and your risk factors.
Assess your risk
The two biggest risk factors for breast cancer are beyond your control. These factors are your gender and age. Breast cancer is 100 times more common in women than in men, and as a woman ages, her chances of developing breast cancer increase.
Another risk factor is family history. If you have a mother, sister or daughter who's had breast cancer, your risk of developing the disease is doubled. However, most women who develop breast cancer (85 percent) do not have a family history of the disease.
Lifestyle choices also affect your risk. Maintain a healthy weight, stay physically active and limit your alcohol consumption to help reduce your chances of developing breast cancer.
Take the initiative
Being proactive about your health screenings can save your life. For more information or to schedule a mammogram, call 402-562-3180.