Is there anything I can do to prevent breast cancer?
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The older you get, the more you need a mammogram.
Finding breast cancer early can save your life. So, get a mammogram every year starting at age 40. Since your risk increases as you get older, 3 out of 4 breast cancers occur in women older than age 50. This year and every year, have a mammogram – a simple breast x-ray.
If you are age 20-39:
Have a breast exam done by a doctor or nurse as part of your regular health check-up (at least every 3 years). Tell the doctor or nurse about any changes in your breasts right away, by regularly doing self-exams.
But No one in my family ever had breast cancer.
Your risk is greater if a closer relative has it, but only about 20-30% of women with breast cancer have a family member with it as well.
If I’m going to get it, there’s nothing I can do about it.
Yes, there is. It’s not known what causes breast cancer yet, but early detection can improve a woman’s chance of beating it. If a lump is found early and still small with no symptoms, a woman has more options for treatment. Early detection means that a woman’s chances for saving her breast are better and the treatment the doctor suggests will almost always have fewer side effects.
How can I afford a mammogram since these kinds of tests cost a lot?
Medicare, Medicaid and almost all insurance companies cover mammograms. Some low-cost programs are often available, usually during Breast Cancer Awareness month every October. Some doctors, hospitals and clinics may lower their fees for women who cannot afford a usual charge. For more information, call the American Cancer Society 1-800-227-2345 for more information for special low-cost programs where you live.
Mammograms are x-rays. Is the radiation dangerous?
In the last 20 years, equipment and the procedure have greatly improved. Today, the level of radiation is almost harmless and the benefits greatly outweigh the risk. In fact, less radiation is used than a dentists’ x-ray!
What do I do to prepare for a mammogram?
Ask to see the FDA certificate that is issued to all facilities that offer mammograms. Without certification, a facility may not provide mammograms. Use a facility that specializes in mammograms or does at least 3-5 mammograms a day. Go to the same facility when you find one you’re satisfied with, so your doctor can compare your mammograms from year to year. When scheduling, try to avoid the week just before your period. Ahead of time, tell your radiology technologist if you are breast-feeding or think you might be pregnant. On the day of the appointment, do not wear deodorant or antiperspirant. These contain substances that can interfere with the reading. At the appointment, be prepared to tell your technologist who is doing the mammogram about any surgeries, hormone use and any breast cancer that you or a family member has had. Also, discuss any new problems in your breasts with your doctor before the mammogram.
Does a mammogram hurt? Is it embarrassing?
When you get one, you stand beside the machine, and a specially trained doctor helps places you breast on a plastic plate. A second piece is placed on top, for a few seconds to push down and lightly flatten the breast to get a good, clear picture. Many women may feel some discomfort. The whole procedure takes about 20 minutes, but the squeezing only lasts a short time. It’s a great idea to wear a blouse rather than a dress, since you will need to undress above the waist.
What if they find something?
Only 2 out of 4 mammograms out of every 1,000 will lead to cancer diagnosis. All mammogram facilities are required to send your results within 30 days and if something is seen, your doctor will order more tests and perhaps an ultrasound. The doctor may use a thin needle to remove fluid or a small amount of the suspicious area. This test will show if it’s a non-cancerous, fluid-filled cyst or a solid mass, which may or may not be cancer. Sometimes the doctor will do a biopsy, in which a part will be taken out, looked under a microscope and examined. If it goes this far, remember that more than 80% of lumps or suspicious areas are not cancer! If the biopsy shows there is cancer, you and your doctor will discuss treatment options.
What if I find something that worries me?
If you find a lump, a dimple or puckering of the skin, or notice anything unusual, see a doctor right away. Chances are, it’s not cancer but do yourself a favor and have it checked.
Here’s a 6-minute video about how to do a self exam
We hope to spread the word on how to keep our friends and family safe from breast cancer. Please pass this article along to your loved ones to keep them aware.