By Robert G. Sullivan, Esq. – According to the United States Center for Disease Control (“CDC”), breast cancer is the fifth leading cause of death among women over 40. Preventing breast cancer starts with personal awareness and intelligent decisions. When breast cancer is detected and treated at an early stage, many women go on to live a long and productive life.
While doctors and researchers are still unsure of the exact cause of many cancers, including breast cancer, the CDC recommends some simple lifestyle changes that may decrease a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer. These recommendations include eating five servings or more of fruits and vegetables each day, getting regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol intake to no more than one drink a day and not smoking, or quitting if you do.
While those suggestions are good healthy lifestyle choices for anyone, many health care professionals believe that performing monthly breast self-examinations is an essential part of early detection. The benefit to performing regular self-breast examinations is the increased likelihood of early detection. Women who regularly perform self breast examinations are more aware of how their breasts normally feel and therefore more likely to notice changes, like masses, lumps and dimpling of the skin; all of which may be signs of breast cancer. The best time for a woman to perform a breast examination is one week after her period. For those who do not get a period, simply performing the examination the same day each month is recommended. While most breast changes are not cancer, it is important for a woman to see a doctor immediately if she sees or feels changes.
While many doctors encourage women to perform self-exams, the best means available to doctors to facilitate early detection of breast cancer early are regular mammograms. Due to the fact that 94% of new cases of breast cancer occur in women over the age of 40, that is the age at which most doctors recommend women start getting yearly or semi-yearly mammograms. The age and frequency with which each individual should schedule their mammograms may differ depending on their individual family history, race, childbearing history, medication and personal medical history. Only your doctor can determine the best schedule for you.