A Guide To Breast Self-Awareness
As many of you know, October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. And while you may already have your pink ribbon, I thought I’d take this opportunity to bend your ear about the facts.
This year alone, the American Cancer Society projects that nearly 230,000 people will be diagnosed with breast cancer and about 40,000 will die from the disease. This makes it the second leading cancer killer of women. One out of eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives.
Pretty scary facts, but there is hope. Although the number of people diagnosed with breast cancer has been relatively steady, the rate of deaths from breast cancer has been decreasing. A huge factor in the decline is early detection of the cancer.
Enter the breast self-exam (BSE). BSEs have been suggested for many years as a form of early detection at home. Studies show that 50-70% of breast cancers are discovered by patients themselves. Since performing BSEs regularly isn’t always feasible, I recommend patients strive for breast self-awareness (BSA). BSA is not about being an expert on breast exams or about performing them religiously. BSA is about getting to know your body and recognizing there’s a change from your norm.
I recommend that all women familiarize themselves with the way their breasts look and feel. A quick glance in the mirror before you get into the shower can give you an idea of the shape, symmetry and overall appearance of your breasts. Once you’re in the shower, take a moment to feel the breast tissue. Get a sense of what’s normal for you, so that if something changes, you’ll know. If you ever do see or feel anything different, give your doctor a call. Remember that not all lumps are cancer, but they should be checked out by a physician.
In addition to looking after yourself, it is important to have a physician perform a breast exam once a year. The American Cancer Society and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists both recommend annual mammograms starting at the age of 40. Although both of these methods are good at detecting breast cancer, they are not perfect. Also, cancer can develop in the time between regular screening exams. That’s why it is so important to be self-aware and to notify your physician about any concerns you may have.
For more information about breast cancer screening, check out the American Cancer Society’s website.