BY LORENA SAENZ GONZALEZ
You probably don’t need a reminder that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month; after all, pink ribbons are as ubiquitous as pumpkin spice lattes this month. But it never hurts to refresh your understanding of the disease and share with your loved ones.
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women in the U.S. (aside from skin cancer). An estimated 266,120 women (and 2,550 men) are expected to be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2018, and nearly 41,000 women (480 men) will die of the disease. In Texas alone, an estimated 18,260 women will be diagnosed and 2,880 will die of the disease. But death rates are declining, and improvements in early detection and treatment are key.
If you’re a woman in your 20s or 30s, talk to your healthcare professional about clinical breast exams (CBEs); if you have a family history of cancer, be sure to discuss other screening options. Screening saves lives by finding breast cancer earlier, when treatment may be more successful. Beginning at age 40, the Prevent Cancer Foundation encourages women to get a CBE and a mammogram annually. Your healthcare professional may recommend that you begin screening earlier, get screened more frequently or get magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with your mammogram if you have a family history of the disease.
Although more expensive and not always covered by insurance, 3D mammograms have been found to be slightly better at detecting cancer and may reduce false positives (a result that suggests cancer is present when it really is not). Talk to your health care professional to see if your screening facility offers this technology and if this method is recommended for you.
Pay attention to your body. Talk with a health care professional if you experience a lump, hard knot or thickening in the breast; a lump under your arm; a change in the size or shape of a breast; nipple pain, tenderness or discharge, including bleeding; itchiness, scales, soreness or rash on a nipple; an inward or inverted nipple; a change in skin color and texture (dimpling, puckering or redness); or a breast that feels warm or swollen.
You can take steps to reduce your risk of breast cancer. If you drink alcohol, limit it to no more than one drink a day if you’re a woman or two drinks a day if you’re a man, exercise at least 30 minutes at least five days a week, maintain a healthy weight and don’t smoke. Breastfeeding may also reduce a woman’s risk of breast cancer. Take action now and make these healthy lifestyle choices to stop cancer before it starts. COMMENTARY: Importance of observing Breast Cancer Awareness Month Learn more at www.preventcancer.org/breast.
Lorena Saenz Gonzalez is the spouse of U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen. She is a member of the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program.