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Getting to Know Your Body Essential to Early Detection

by Mohammad Tahir, MD, PhD

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According to statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year in the U.S., about 245,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women and about 2,600 in men. About 41,000 women and 460 men in the U.S. die each year from breast cancer. 

Over the last decade, the rate of getting breast cancer has not changed for women, but the overall rate has increased for black women and Asian and Pacific Islander women.

The Importance of the Personal Approach

One size fits all guidelines for breast cancer screenings are no longer the default as medical experts look to provide a personalized approach based on an individual’s risk factors.

Nobody knows your body better than you. Knowing your body makes you an active participant in your breast health and guides your provider as they examine and evaluate you. Your own assessment can guide therapies and make your treatment plan easier.

Breast self-exams (a regular, five minute visual and physical inspection) help you learn your breasts’ unique makeup and characteristics both of which change cyclically and over time. A young woman typically has denser breasts with more hormonally active tissue than an older woman who has gone through menopause. Beginning breast self-exam in your twenties is ideal, but any time is a good time.

If you notice something in your self-exam, don’t panic. Changes in the breast, such as lumps or masses, typically trigger cancer concerns but only about 20% of lumps turn out to be cancerous. You should report your finding to your doctor. Your doctor may recommend additional screening and can work with you to help identify the cause of the change.

Prevention Can Go a Long Way

In addition to regular self-exams, you can take the followings actions to decrease risks associated with breast cancer:

  • Choose a Healthy and Active Lifestyle – Many lifestyle choices that promote general good health also benefit breast health. Choose a diet high in fresh fruits, vegetables, and fiber, and low in fat and sugar. Exercise at least 20 minutes daily and maintain a healthy weight. Women who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of developing breast cancer, as do women who smoke and/or drink more than four to five glasses of wine per week.
  • Know Your Risk – Become familiar with your risk. There are many factors that increase your risk for breast cancer, so it’s important to understand the risks and act accordingly.
  • Build a Family Medical History – While most cases of breast cancer are not caused by inherited genetic factors, having a family history of breast cancer does increase your risk for breast and other cancers. Talk to relatives and develop a family medical history to discuss with your provider.

Additionally, regular screening as recommended by your provider can help detect breast abnormalities early. No matter what your breast cancer risk is, early detection provides you with the best odds for beating cancer. Most doctors in the U.S. agree that beginning at age 40 (earlier if you do have a family history), women should have an annual mammogram to detect breast cancer at its earliest stages and when treatment can be the most effective. Therefore, it’s important to have open conversations with you doctor. Your doctor will determine which screening plan is best for you.

Learn more about Breast Health Services.