Every October, breast cancer awareness ribbons emerge and colorful leaves begin to brighten our tree line. Although fall is the season of change, there are several things that will not change in terms of breast health.
Women over the age of 40 need a screening mammogram every year. Performing a self breast exam and seeing the doctor once a year are also important steps for breast health.
Sure, there are reports that say self-exams do not save lives and can unnecessarily cause anxiety if lumps are found. But let’s think about this report another way. No one knows your body better than you. Performing self-exams at the same time each month allows you to learn the normal texture of your breasts. Then, if you do feel something abnormal, you can bring it to the attention of your health care professional.
Breast self-exams create the awareness necessary to keep you in charge of your health. Not every woman takes the time to see her doctor and get the recommended screening exams, especially in light of today’s health insurance crisis. However, each of us can get to know what is normal for our own bodies and seek professional help when necessary.
Mammograms are still the best method for the early detection of breast cancer. The new digital mammogram uses less radiation than film mammography, and images can be stored and shared with your doctors electronically. Digital mammograms also are significantly better for screening women under age 50 or women of any age who have very dense breasts, according to a National Cancer Institute fact sheet.
So, what’s the take-home message? Life is full of changes and uncertainty, but one thing is certain: the importance of taking charge of your health. Be aware of what is necessary to stay healthy and seek assistance whenever you have a question.
It all sounds simple, but many women do not get their annual mammogram, see a doctor or perform breast self-exams. Celebrate this October by starting a new tradition. Call a friend and schedule your mammogram together. Make it a special day by sharing a fun activity after your mammogram.
Michelle Farnan is a registered nurse at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Penn State Hershey Breast Center.