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Decrease your risk of breast cancer

Stacy Teston County Extension Agent, FCS

With the fall season now upon us, it is important to remember that October 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 Stacy Teston, Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent in Bandera 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 one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, and one in 30 women will die of the disease.
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 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.
Remember: The most important screening tools we have are mammograms and clinical breast exams. To reduce your risks of 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 National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.