Breast Cancer Awareness Month: What You Need to Know About Early Detection

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is likely to touch each of our lives, no matter who we are, what we do or where we live, and this month brings awareness to the importance of early detection.

While most of us know that we can wear pink in honor or memory of those who have gone through it, it should go without saying that we have to do more than wear pink in order to help ourselves and others. No one wants to think about the “what ifs,” but understanding the risks of and how to prevent breast cancer can make a huge difference in outcomes.

Susan G. Komen encourages us to take this month as a time of action, whether it is for ourselves or for someone we love.

1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.

How important is early detection?

The first step is to speak to your doctor about your risk factors. If you have a family history of breast cancer, your doctor may want to begin mammograms earlier than usual. If your doctor tells you that you have an average risk, you will begin having annual mammograms at 40. According to Susan G. Komen, early detection may save your life, so don’t put off those annual checkups.

Is my lifestyle putting me at risk?

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, studies are not conclusive and no one can say for sure if lifestyle choices put us at risk. There are a few things that could put you more at risk (consuming large amounts of dairy, using hair dye and drinking alcohol, to name a few), and a few things that might lessen the risk (breastfeeding, exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet), but we are exposed to many things that could possibly contribute to cancer and it is difficult to single out one thing.

There is one exception. Smoking and secondhand smoke is a confirmed risk factor for cancer, including breast cancer, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. If you are a smoker, stopping can help you prevent disease in significant ways.

Should I be concerned about prevention if I’m not 40 yet?

If you are not 40, there are still things you can do for early detection/prevention:

  • Schedule an annual physical with your OB/GYN.
  • Perform a breast self-exam so you become familiar with your body and can make note of any changes.
  • Consider getting tested for BRCA mutations if you are high risk (your doctor can tell you if you qualify for this test).

How can I show my support?

If you know someone going through breast cancer, or want to show your support during this month of October and beyond, there are numerous ways to show that you care.

  • Educate yourself and others on the importance of annual doctor’s visits. Let’s face it, annual exams are not the most fun activity, but if you have a friend or family member who completely dreads them, encourage them to go (you could even offer to drive them there!) and then meet up for lunch afterwards.
  • Sign up for a local breast cancer walk or run. The proceeds go to breast cancer research, and you will be surrounded by people who are there for the same cause.
  • Become an advocate. Susan G. Komen advocates act as the voice of over 3 million breast cancer survivors in U.S. Advocates fight to make sure that breast cancer awareness is top of mind for state and national policymakers.
  • Be a friend. If you want to support someone going through it, be there for them. Make a meal, send a care package, or be there to listen.

If you need support, the American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery program can match you with volunteers based on your diagnosis and treatment options. Volunteers will provide one-on-one support, and the program is free.

 

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