Submitted by Jeffery Cherney, MD
— Breast cancer consistently tops the list of health concerns for many women and fear of developing the disease can be a tremendous source of anxiety. Fortunately, preventive measures can reduce a woman’s risk of breast cancer and early detection can improve her chances of survival.
Mammography is central to the early detection of breast cancer. Mammograms can detect changes in the breast as small as a pinhead, often one to two years earlier than when a lump can be felt and before the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. The five year survival rate for cancer caught at this stage is 98 percent, a compelling reason to get screened. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that women 40 years of age and older be offered annual mammograms. Yet many women do not get screened for various reasons, such as fear of discomfort or fear of an abnormal result.
C.C., 43, shared her personal story on ACOG.org. This busy, professional woman opted not to have mammograms. “I was afraid of the pain and what might happen. Sometimes women get a mammogram result that drives them crazy with fear for no good reason”. Instead, she performed regular self exams. “I figured that if there was a problem, I’d catch it myself. Recently I found a lump — but not soon enough”. She was diagnosed with breast cancer that had spread to a lymph node. “In hindsight, instead of trying to be my own doctor, I wish I’d faced my fears and gotten annual mammograms so the cancer would have been detected earlier”. By sharing her story, she adds, “I hope I can help another woman face her fears and understand how crucial it is to her health to have mammograms done on a timely basis”.
Besides early detection, there is convincing evidence that there are important steps you can take to reduce your risk of breast cancer. Maintain a healthy weight, as women who gain excess weight are more prone to breast cancer. Exercise – women who are physically active have a 20-30 percent reduced risk of breast cancer. And limit alcohol. The more alcohol you consume, the greater your risk of breast cancer. If you choose to drink, limit it to one drink per day.
Advances in early detection and improved treatments have led to a steady decrease in breast cancer related deaths since the 1990s. The 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. serve as proof that more women are beating breast cancer than ever before. Despite these advances, there is still much to be done. For those who are concerned with the health of women, breast cancer awareness month lasts all year long.