Breast cancer is the most common cancer for women in the United States, second only to skin cancer. In fact, approximately 220,000 women and 2,000 men in the U.S. are diagnosed each year. But despite how common breast cancer is, many women aren’t as familiar as they should be with breast cancer screenings and prevention. Find out what steps you can take today to reduce your risk and catch the disease early.
Risk Factors & Symptoms
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a comprehensive list of risk factors for breast cancer. For example, as you age, your risk for breast cancer increases. Other risk factors include certain genetic mutations, having dense breasts, starting menstruation early and a family history of breast cancer.
There are several symptoms to look for, like noticing a new lump in the breast or underarm, thickening or swelling of part of the breast, nipple discharge other than breast milk and pain in any area of the breast. While these symptoms don’t necessarily mean you have breast cancer, it’s important to talk to your doctor whenever you notice a change.
“Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan supports preventive mammography screenings and procedures,” says Dr. Thomas Simmer, SVP and chief medical officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, Blue Cross looks to build awareness around the benefits of preventive care and screenings.” Here are some of the things you can do to prevent breast cancer or catch it early:
- What are my screening options? Cancer screenings are tests that may detect cancer or abnormalities before symptoms are present. The benefit of screenings is the potential to detect cancer at an early stage, when treatments may be more effective. The most common screening method is a mammogram, which is when x-ray photos of the breast tissue are taken. Mammograms have been proven to lower the risk of death from breast cancer by 35 percent in women over the age of 50. This important preventive exam is covered by many Blue Cross plans. (Find out what your plan covers, by logging into your member account here.)
- How often do you need to get screened? The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women ages 50 to 74 with average risk of breast cancer should get a screening every two years. Depending on their risk level, women 40 to 49 might also require regular screenings (consult with your doctor to discuss an individualized plan).
- What about self-exams? The self-exam is an important way to detect unusual changes in your breast that may be cause for concern. These exams can be performed by yourself in the shower, mirror or lying down. This helpful graphic provides instructions for how to properly conduct a self-breast exam. If you notice a change, talk to your doctor about it.
For more information about breast cancer prevention, treatment and diagnosis, check out these blog posts: