Even thinking about the possibility of having breast cancer can be frightening, but every woman needs to face up to facts, be proactive and take conscious control of her life. Thinking and acting ahead using foresight is the best strategy in the battle against breast cancer.
As all women are at risk for breast cancer, with risks higher for some, routine preventive care is the best way to keep your breasts and yourself healthy. Early detection of breast cancer improves the chances that the disease can be found in its initial stages and treated successfully. Experts recommend routine care. This can be ensured by following a three-step plan of preventive care for breast health, which is based on the guidelines issued by the American Cancer Society (ACS).
- A Breast Self Exam (BSE) is the first step in the plan. BSE help women age 20 and older to become get familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel. This will help them notice changes more easily and report them to a health care provider without delay. Changes to look for include: Development of a lump, swelling of the breast, skin irritation or dimpling, nipple discharge other than breast milk, or other nipple abnormalities (pain, redness, or turning inward).
- A Clinical Breast Exam (CBE) is the next step. A woman’s physical exam includes a routine breast exam by a healthcare provider or nurse qualified to evaluate breast problems. CBE is recommended for women aged between 20 and 39 and should be carried out every 3 years. This should be repeated every year once you pass the age of 40.
- The final step of the plan is mammography. This imaging technique takes a low-dose x-ray of the breasts. A mammogram can detect breast changes that could be cancer years before physical symptoms develop. Research has shown that women who have regular mammograms are more likely to benefit from early detection of breast cancer, less likely to need aggressive treatment such as mastectomy or breast removal surgery and chemotherapy, and have greater chances of being cured.
The age that women should start getting mammograms was 40 according to the ACA. However, the recently released updated guidelines of the ACA recommend annual breast cancer screenings at age 45 (instead of 40) and switching to every other year at age 55. However, ACA also says that women’s preferences for when to be scanned should be considered.
The adage ‘prevention is better than cure’ has special relevance in the context of breast cancer. So take the right steps to identify the disease in its early stage and make lifestyle changes with a healthy diet and exercise regimen to lower your risks.