This month is focused on Breast Cancer Awareness to remind women of the importance of practicing prevention by getting mammograms and performing self-breast exams. A screening mammogram not only can detect breast cancer before you have symptoms, but it also makes it easier to treat if found early. However, many women put off having this life saving test for reasons that are inexcusable.
Here are the facts:
- 1 out of 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.
- Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women.
- Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women.
- Each year it is estimated that over 252,710 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,500 will die.
- On average, every 2 minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer and 1 woman will die of breast cancer every 13 minutes.
- African American women have the highest breast cancer death rates and are 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women.
If breast cancer is diagnosed at a later stage due to infrequent screenings and lack of routine care, there may be limited and less effective treatment options. Part of self-care is practicing prevention, which means taking the time to visit the doctor for wellness exams and screening tests. So, with all this information, why are we not putting ourselves first and having routine mammograms and performing self-breast exams? Here are some excuses:
I don’t have a family history
Even for women without a family history, there are still other factors that may increase your risk of developing the disease like starting your menstrual cycle at an early age, never having children or having your first child at a later age, older age, starting menopause at a later age, prolonged use of hormone replacement therapy, obesity and alcohol use.
Yes, there may be some discomfort or pressure but it should not be painful. The mammogram itself takes 10-15 minutes. Let’s weight the benefits of getting a clean bill of health or finding a lesion early versus 10-15 minutes of discomfort.
I don’t have time
This is a terrible excuse for not scheduling a test that may save your life. We must put ourselves first and schedule important tests. Everything else can wait. Put it on your calendar and don’t remove it. Changing this appointment is non-negotiable.
I don’t feel any lumps when I perform my breast exams
This is only one measure of screening for breast cancer. and is not a substitute for getting a mammogram. Self-breast exams should be combined with screening mammograms. Mammograms can pick up changes in your breast tissue before you can actually discover a lump.
I don’t want to find out
This is simply denial. “Denial does not solve the problem. Denial does not make the problem go away. Denial does not give us peace of mind, which is what we are really seeking when we engage in it. Denial is a liar. It compounds the problem, because it keeps us from seeing a solution, and taking action to resolve it.”-Bill Kortenback Avoiding the mammogram will not change the potential outcome, it will just prolong finding out earlier about a problem that is easier to combat in the early stages.
What are the current mammogram screening recommendations?
The American Cancer Society now recommends now that annual mammograms begin at age 45. The new guidelines would look like this:
- Women 40 to 44 discuss mammography with their doctor, and have the option of starting annual screening if they want it or their risk factors warrant it.
- Women 45 to 54 receive annual mammography screening.
- Women 55 and older receive screening every other year, and only discontinue mammography when life expectancy drops below 10 years.
The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends women age 50-74 get a mammogram, every two years.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends mammograms every 1-2 years starting at age 40 for women at average risk, but no later than age 50 and this should be a shared decision with your provider.
When to start mammogram screening, should be a personal decision between you and your physician based on the risk factors that are specific to your personal and family history.
Remember, under the Affordable Care Act screening mammograms are covered 100% without a copay, deductible or co-insurance. However, if you do not have insurance and are between the ages of 40-64, you may qualify for a free or low-cost mammogram through CDC's National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbccedp or by calling 1-800-CDC-INFO
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