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Think Pink: October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Across the world, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

But if you’re a woman, every month should be breast cancer awareness month because early detection and treatment can save lives.

Thanks to decades-old efforts from the American Cancer Society, the Susan G. Komen Foundation and others, deaths from breast cancer have steadily declined since 1989.

But that decline is starting to slow. Breast cancer incidence rates are creeping up. Researchers believe it’s due to increased rates of obesity and a decrease in fertility. These assertions are based on the American Cancer Society’s Breast Cancer Statistics, 2019-2020.

Whether a woman develops breast cancer is due to several factors. But women can take action to protect themselves. It’s important to know your risk, get screenings, know what is “normal” for your breasts and live a healthy lifestyle.

Know your risk factors

Family history, age, previous radiation treatments, dense breast tissue and even reproductive history are factors that can increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer. However, there are several things within a woman’s control that can lower her risks.

Controlling what you can control
  • Increase or maintain regular physical activity
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Limit drinking alcohol
  • Talk to your doctor about risks from hormone replacement therapy

Having risk factors for breast cancer does not mean you will develop it. Almost all women have some risk factors, but most women never get breast cancer. If you have risk factors, it’s important to work with your doctor to lower your risks.

Follow breast cancer screening recommendations

Under age 40: An annual mammogram is not recommended. Breast tissue tends to be dense in younger women, making a mammogram less effective. However, if you are under age 40, you may consider a clinical breast exam every three years.

Ages 40-44: If you prefer to have an annual mammogram, you should.
Ages 45-54: An annual mammogram is recommended.
Age 55 and older: A mammogram at least every two years is recommended.

Know what is normal for your breasts

Your breasts are a distinct and unique part of your body, and knowing what’s normal for you will aid in detecting abnormal changes more quickly. There are different types of breast cancer so abnormal signs and symptoms can vary.

Look for the following:

  • Dimpling or irritated breast or nipple skin
  • Scaly or thickened breast or nipple skin
  • Discharge from a nipple, excluding breast milk
  • An inverted nipple (nipple turned inward)
  • Pain in the breast or nipple
  • Swelling in the breast
  • Swollen lymph nodes near the collarbone or in the underarm area
  • Live a healthy lifestyle
  • Be physically active
  • Don’t smoke
  • Eat fruits and vegetables
  • Limit drinking alcohol
  • Maintain a healthy weight
Screenings help detect breast cancer sooner

Women have several options for breast cancer screening, including breast self-awareness and exams, clinical breast exams by a doctor or nurse, mammography and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).

Breast MRI takes images of the breast using magnetic waves and radio waves. An MRI can be used along with a mammogram to help screen women who have a high risk of breast cancer.

A mammogram is a low-dose X-ray of the breast. Of all breast cancer screening options available, a mammogram is the most effective at catching cancer early. If you’re over the age of 40 or at a high risk for breast cancer, talk to you doctor about your screening options.

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