"Breast cancer" — two words that strike fear, anxiety and sometimes frank hysteria into virtually every woman at some point in her life. Maybe it's a deep-seated fear you have, born out of a personal struggle with this horrifying disease. Perhaps you're hoping and praying that it never comes back, or perhaps you're like me — someone who stood by feeling devastated and helpless as you watched someone you dearly loved succumb to this ruthless stealer of dreams, annihilator of peace and destroyer of families. It could be that breast cancer is not on your radar yet, especially if you are in your 20s or 30s. But beware — chances are that you will one day come face to face with this beast, even if it does not affect you directly.
The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 12 percent of women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. On a brighter note, there are over 2.8 million breast cancer survivors! An important distinction between those who die from this disease and those who survive it is early detection. Breast cancer is every woman's nightmare, so we must have an effective game plan to defeat it.
- If you're in denial, get out of it.
If you think it can't happen to you, think again. Breast cancer can strike you in the prime of your life — even during your childbearing years, when it seems like your life as a woman is just beginning.
- Do all you can to prevent breast cancer.
- There is a significant link between alcohol use and breast cancer, so if you drink alcohol, drink no more than one drink daily.
- A study by the Women's Health Initiative found that as little as 1.25 to 2.5 hours of brisk walking weekly reduced a woman's risk of breast cancer by 18 percent.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being obese or overweight may increase the risk of breast cancer in some women.
- Schedule your mammogram.
If you are 40 years old or older, get a mammogram each year. Talk to your doctor to see if she feels that you need one prior to that age.
- Get regular breast exams from a professional.
If you are in your 20s or 30s, get a Clinical Breast Exam (CBE) at least every 3 years from a medical professional. If you're 40 years old or older, have one done every year.
- Examine your breasts.
Start examining your breasts monthly, preferably after your menstrual cycle. It is a good idea to begin this practice while you are in your 20s. Remember, breast cancer can and does strike early.
- Consider seeing a breast specialist if you are at high risk.
You may benefit from having a yearly MRI in addition to your mammogram if you are at high risk. Your breast specialist may also have some specific recommendations tailored just for you.