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Many women may only think about their breast health after hearing news of a breast cancer diagnosis – breast cancer is, after all, the most common type of cancer among American women. Early detection is key to catching breast cancer when it’s most treatable. Understanding your options for your own breast health can provide you with a road map to know what to do.
Here are five things to know to navigate your breast health.
You Can Control Some Risk Factors
You can’t change your age, personal or family history, including inherited genes and gender, but you can manage other risk factors that contribute to the disease. Maintaining a healthy body weight and following a healthy diet with lots of fruits and veggies to boost your immune system helps keep your body the healthiest it can be. It also means not smoking or quitting and limiting your alcohol consumption and managing stress levels with a regular exercise program.
Genealogy Has an Impact
About 13 percent of all women diagnosed with cancer have a mother, sister or daughter who has also been diagnosed with breast cancer. Women who have close blood relatives with breast / ovarian cancer are at higher risk – and with every additional family member diagnosed before menopause, this risk increases. If this is the case in your family, consult with your physician about your plan – and consider getting a baseline mammogram at least 10 years before the age your family member was diagnosed. For example, if your mother was 40, your baseline should be at age 30. Mammograms are not recommended before the age of 30.
Detection is in Your Hands
You know your body best, so breast self-awareness is an important part of your health. Whether in the shower, in front of a mirror, or lying down, be aware of skin changes of the breast or nipple region, lumps or swelling in the breast or armpits, nipple discoloration/discharge, or changes in the shape, size or position of your breast. Report any changes to your physician. The best time for evaluating your breasts and to schedule a mammogram is the week after your period ends, when your breasts are more pliable.
Screenings Still Save Lives
Screening with mammography is an essential part of your breast health. The American Cancer Society recommends that women at average risk for developing breast cancer get yearly mammograms starting at age 45. However, depending on your personal or family history, your physician may recommend you start screening at the age of 40. There are many diagnostic tools available, but many consider digital breast tomosynthesis, also known as 3D mammography, to be the new standard of care. Research shows that by using X-ray technology, 3D mammography provides a more detailed view of the breast tissue - and fewer false positives.
Women With Dense Breasts Have it Harder
About more than 50 percent of women have dense breasts, which can mask abnormalities on a standard digital mammogram, making it more difficult to screen. Dense breast tissue is also an independent risk factor for developing breast cancer. The FDA-approved automated breast ultrasound screening exam (ABUS) is designed to supplement the yearly mammogram to detect cancer in women with dense breasts. Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital and Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital were the first hospitals in the western suburbs to offer this leading-edge screening tool.
Breast health takes time to navigate and breast cancer prevention can be a multistep journey. Your primary care physician can support you along the way and connect you with specialists downtown, on the north shore or in the western suburbs who can provide quick results, cancer expertise and other support services as well as access to clinical trials, breakthrough research and academic cancer care services.