October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

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Breast Cancer Awareness is an annual campaign organized by major breast cancer charities to raise awareness about the disease and to raise money for research for a cure. In addition, it’s an opportunity to provide the public with information on how to prevent the disease and better treat it. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), one of the best ways to prevent breast cancer is early detection. That’s why it’s imperative to get a mammogram.

Mammograms have been shown to reduce the risks associated with breast cancer, including breast cancer deaths, by catching the disease in a preliminary stage. Getting regular mammograms is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your own breast cancer related risks, according to the ACS. They advise that beginning at 45 years old, women should begin getting mammograms every year. And at 55, women are advised to start getting mammograms once every two years (but if you prefer going annually, that’s fine too).

Some Seniors think that because they’re long past menopause they don’t need to get a mammogram, but according to the ACS, this is not true. ACS suggests that as long as you are healthy with a life expectancy of at least 10 years, you should still get a mammogram every two years regardless of how old you are. And in between those two years, be sure to do self-exams, something advised for women of all ages. If you’re not sure about how to do it, ask your gynecologist – and don’t be bashful. Remember, it could be the difference between life and death.

And if breast cancer runs in your family, you’re considered high-risk, and ACS advises that women as young as 30 should start getting both a breast MRI and mammogram annually. That’s because a breast MRI can find some cancers not seen on a mammogram but can also miss some cancers that a mammogram would find.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) advises women at high-risk to begin getting both a yearly breast MRI and mammogram at an even younger age, 25, depending on the youngest age of breast cancer in the family and/or if the person themselves, or a family member, has a breast cancer gene mutation, either the BRCA1 or BRCA2.  (Women who have personal or family history of breast cancer – or ovarian cancer – would be candidates for the BRCA1 & BRCA gene test. Please note that not everyone who has one or both of these gene mutations will develop breast cancer or ovarian cancer.)  

The NCCN also suggests that women at high-risk get clinical breast exams by their gynecologist every 6 to 12 months beginning at age 25 as an extra precaution. If you fall into this category, just remember you still need to do self-exams.  And if you do find a small, abnormal lump, be sure to take immediate action and tell your physician. Because this is a kind of cancer where you truly do have a fighting chance.

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