Breast Health

It is estimated that 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among women in the U.S. in 2011, and as a woman that troubles me. This insidious disease has become so common place in our society that if it’s not affecting you directly, it’s definitely affecting someone you know or love. One of the scariest things for me is it almost seems inevitable- statistically 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.

When I review some of the risk factors: women who have no children or the first child after 30, women who started their menstrual cycle early (before age 12), or went through menopause later (after age 55), obesity, drinking alcohol, etc. – these factors are startling to me.

Another interesting statistic is that even though more Caucasian women are diagnosed with Breast Cancer, more African American women die from it. One possible reason is that African American women tend to have more aggressive tumors (researchers aren’t sure why this is the case for ethnic women). Another reason is because many of us don’t go to the doctor or get our mammograms on a regular basis, so by the time we get our diagnosis the disease has progressed to more advanced stages.

Unfortunately, on too many occasions I have heard women say that when they suspect something is seriously wrong with them, they won’t go to the doctor because they don’t want to know. That is the most infuriating thing to me because knowledge is power, especially when it comes to your health. The more you know and the sooner you know it, the better your odds are of saving your life.

Though the growing numbers of Breast Cancer diagnoses are discouraging, I am encouraged by how many women have survived it. One of the keys to survival is early detection. As we know, regular self-exams are good, clinical breast exams are better, and regular mammograms are best. There is debate about when women should start to have them, and it really depends on several factors, including family history. However, I recently learned another disturbing statistic about family history. Even though women with family history are encouraged to start getting checked much early than age 35, statistics reveal that 85-90% of women diagnosed with Breast Cancer don’t have a family history.

In general, women should get a baseline mammogram at age 35 and annual mammograms once you reach age 40. Given the economic times we’re living in I’m certain there are many women who are willing to get a mammogram, but don’t have the money or health insurance to cover it. Fortunately, there are resources available to help women get FREE or low cost exams.

The CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) provides breast and cervical cancer screenings and diagnostic services to low-income, uninsured, and underinsured women across the United States. The NBCCEDP programs offer the following services for eligible women: clinical breast examinations, mammograms, pap tests, pelvic examinations, diagnostic testing if results are abnormal, and referrals to treatment. For more information and to see if you qualify, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbccedp/about.htm

I just scheduled my annual mammogram, will YOU join me?

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