For many people, the month of October is a month of fall delights, such as apple picking, pumpkins and the fall colors. For others, October has taken on a much more serious meaning as they remember the loved ones who have gone through breast cancer.
As you know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Even as we continue to show our support for the battle against breast cancer, it’s important to remember the importance of early detection. Mammograms remain a key tool in the early detection; catching breast cancer early increases the chance that treatment will be most successful.
While there has been some debate recently about the age women should begin seeking a mammogram, the American Cancer Society (ACS) says women with an of average risk for breast cancer — that means no personal or family history of the disease — should consider beginning the screenings once they reach the age of 40. It’s recommended that women who are ages 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year, while those who are 55 and older can switch to every other year or, if they prefer and their physician agrees, they can continue to get screened annually.
If you have a higher than average risk for breast cancer, the ACS recommends a mammogram and an MRI every year. A woman is considered to have a higher than average risk of breast cancer if there’s a family history of breast cancer, if she has the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, or if she’s had chest radiation therapy between the ages of 10 and 30.
Early detection cannot be overemphasized. If cancer is detected early, there are more options for treatment, which increases the odds of a positive outcome. That is also the driving force behind the recommendation for women to conduct a monthly self-examination of their breasts.
It’s also important to think beyond mammograms. Making healthy lifestyle choices such as reducing alcohol intake, not smoking and being physically active may help reduce your chance of developing breast cancer.
Finally, as you wear pink over the next month to show your support for those who have battled breast cancer, don’t forget about yourself. If you notice any differences in the look or feel of your breasts, you should tell your healthcare provider immediately. Likewise, if you have any questions about mammograms, or where you fit on the risk factor scale, speak with your primary care physician.
And a note to men: While breast cancer is also a danger for men, cases are very rare. However, if a man has a family history of breast cancer, or feels a lump, he should see a physician. Just because you are male, don’t think it couldn’t happen to you. Know the signs and stay aware.
By being aware of the signs and the risks, and taking care of yourself, you can continue to help in the fight against breast cancer for years to come.
Dr. Ivy Vachon specializes in family medicine and primary care at Bellin Health Marinette. She can be reached at 715-735-5225.