With the fall season almost upon us, it is important to remember that next month is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Today, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States and the second leading cause of cancer death among North American women, according to Jheri-Lynn McSwain, Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent in Shelby County. Unfortunately, many women with breast cancer do not even know that they have cancer until it is in its advanced stages. It is estimated that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, and 1 in 30 women will die of the disease, McSwain says.
So what can we do to decrease our risk of dying of breast cancer? Early detection via health screenings, such as mammography, is an important step. Screening examinations can detect breast cancers early, before symptoms occur, which may make it easier to treat the disease. Screening involves getting mammograms, clinical breast exams, and self breast exams, which are optional. There are many factors in predicting the chances of survival of a woman who is diagnosed with breast cancer, but finding the cancer as early as possible greatly improves the likelihood that treatment will be effective.
When should women starting screening for breast cancer? If you are over 40 years old, you need a mammogram every year, according to Courtney Schoessow, Health Program Specialist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast that usually involves two views, or pictures, of each breast. Mammograms help find lumps or growths that are too small for you or your health care provider to feel when conducting an exam. Additionally, women who are younger than 40 and have had breast cancer or breast problems or have a family history of breast cancer need a mammogram once a year.
A clinical breast examination is an examination of your breasts by a health professional, such as a doctor, nurse practitioner, nurse, or doctor’s assistant. This exam is also known as a CBE. Clinical breast exams should be part of a periodic health exam, at least every three years for women in their 20s and 30s, and every year for women 40 and over. During your CBE, your health care provider may tell you how to perform a breast self-exam, or BSE. By regularly performing BSEs, you will learn how your breasts normally feel, and you will be able to report any changes in your breasts to your health professional as soon as you find them. Finding a breast change does not mean that there is a cancer. You may choose not to do BSEs, or you can just do them occasionally.
Some women choose not to get mammograms because of the cost. Beginning in 2011, the Affordable Care Act required that all new health insurance plans fully cover screening mammograms without any out-of-pocket expenses for the patient. This is also required of Medicare. For uninsured women and those not eligible for Medicare, resources are available for which these women may qualify. To help women learn about these resources and how to access them, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in Shelby County will be conducting a Friend to Friend event on Saturday, October 1st. Mary Hebert, M.D., Radiation Oncologist from Nacogdoches Medical Center, will be at the event to provide information about both breast and cervical cancers. In addition to the speaker, there will be discussion on the obstacles that prevent women from getting mammograms and pap tests. Nacogdoches Medical Center will be present conducting free health screenings and participants will have an opportunity to schedule a screening mammogram. Lunch will be provided at no charge, door prizes and goodie bags will be available. Help will be provided to direct women who qualify to financial resources that will cover the cost of a screening mammogram. To learn more about the Friend to Friend event, contact the Shelby County AgriLife Extension office at 936-598-7744.
In addition, East Texas Medical Center will be on the square at the Historic Shelby County Courthouse with their Mobile Mammogram Unit on Monday, October 10th providing mammograms for women with or without insurance. To schedule an appointment for a mammogram, call the Extension office at 936-598-7744 and speak to Daphne or Jheri-Lynn.
Remember: The most important screening tools we have are mammograms and clinical breast exams. To reduce your risks of dying from breast cancer, you need to follow the guidelines on when to get them. Taking charge of your health now can lead to a healthier tomorrow. Start by getting screened this month in recognition of the upcoming National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.