I went for my mammogram a couple of weeks ago but before you applaud me, I must confess that it was not solely self-driven. See, despite knowing that at my age I’m supposed to go for breast cancer screening every year and nudging from my doctor during my yearly check ups, I hadn’t gone for one since 2011 (almost 3 years.)
Why, you might ask would a woman who has access to breast cancer screening resources and the means to do it avoid it? Fear, lack of time, complacency (no history of breast cancer in my family), and not keeping up to date with information on how often I should go for screening. On this last point, I believe I subconsciously allowed myself to accept the last bit of information I heard – only women in their 50s need to go every 2 years – and never bothered to dig deeper.
As I waited for results and feeling a little guilty that I had taken so long to go for screening, I decided there was no better time to refresh my knowledge about breast cancer and the impact it has on women all over the world. And maybe, just maybe, with what I learned and shared, I might motivate a woman who was fearful like me to go for her screening and possibly save a life.
Here is what I learned and why if at risk, you should go for your mammogram:
- Age when breast cancer screening should begin – 40 for low risk women, such as no history of breast cancer in the family. 30 for high risk women (history of ovarian and/or breast cancer in the family.) At this age, it’s important to consult your doctor first before going for screening.
- Frequency – breast cancer screening should happen yearly
- Types of screening:
- Detection – done when there are no symptoms
- Diagnostic – done when a lump/symptom has already been detected
- Other breast cancer detection methods:
- Breast self exam (BSE)
- Clinical Breast Exam (CBE)
Click here to learn more about each detection method.
- Breast cancer signs:
- Pain, change in size or shape of breast, thickened skin on the breast, and nipple discharge
- Where to go:
- The FDA provides resources to help you find certified mammography screening facilities by location. Please click here to search for a location near you or to download the certified list, which is updated weekly. For uninsured or low income women, the CDC provides access to breast cancer screening through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. Click here to learn more about this program and how you can find a location near you.
- How to prepare for it:
- Avoid making an appointment during your period or a week before because your breasts will be tender and more sensitive so screening maybe uncomfortable (some pain)
- Wear a shirt and pants, shorts or skirt so you only have to take off your shirt during screening
- Don’t wear any perfume, deodorant, lotions or powder under the armpits as they may interfere with the screening (can cause shadow in x-rays)
- If going to a new facility, request that your old facility transfer your previous results to the new place
- Click here to learn more about breast cancer facts.
- Results from your mammogram can be given on the same day or through your doctor. The choice of how you want to receive results rests with you and what you’re comfortable with. Please click here to find some tips that may help you make a more informed decision.
- False positive – results show cancer present but it’s not
- False negative – results show that cancer is not present but it is
- Number of breast cancer cases in the U.S. per year is 222,175 as of 2011
- Number of breast cancer cases globally per year is estimated at 1.7 million as of 2012
- Survival rate if detected early – 20% – 35%
- Number of deaths in the U.S. per year is estimated at 41,374 as of 2011
- Number of deaths globally per year is estimated at 508,000 as of 2011
- 58% of deaths happen in less developed countries even though they have lower incidents of breast cancer. Why? Lack of detection programs – late stage diagnosis and treatment facilities.
- Click here to find more breast cancer statistics
- From thinking that breast cancer is preventable to the belief that women with implants do not need to go for screening, breast cancer myths are abundant and can be detrimental to risk reduction and saving lives. For instance, although breast cancer is not preventable, women can protect themselves by taking precautionary steps, such as (1) maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise, (2) limiting alcoholic drinks, (3) reducing exposure to radiation and carcinogens, (4) self examination and screening, (5) educating themselves on the disease (causes, symptoms, at risk factors, etc.), and (6) consulting with their doctor about the risks associated with hormone therapy treatments and oral contraceptives. Click here to access an article from Health.com that does a great job of debunking 25 common breast cancer myths! It’s a pretty comprehensive list and an essential resource for women so please do share with your friends and family and help us spread the word.
Sources & Resources
With breast cancer month behind us (this post was supposed to be published in October but life got in the way), it doesn’t mean that this disease – the most common cancer for women – should fly off the radar. If anything, we should be more vigilant about breast cancer screening and encourage other at risk women to be proactive about it.
How about you? Have you gone for screening lately? What pushed you to do it? Share with our readers and inspire someone to get it done.
Here’s to good health gapmusers!