“It’s breast cancer.”
Every woman fears hearing those three terrifying words from her doctor. It’s an awful burden to have to bear. Every woman handles being diagnosed with the disease that the Center for Disease Control reports is the second-most-common type of cancer afflicting women in the United States today (behind only non-melanoma skin cancer) differently.
Regardless of how any particular woman takes the news, however, it isn’t easy for any one of them. How could it be? In addition to being the leading type of cancer among women, breast cancer also causes the highest number of cancer-related deaths among American women. The Center for Disease Control reports that over 200,000 women were newly diagnosed with the disease in 2009 (which, as of this writing, was the latest year for which numbers were available) and more than 40,000 lost their lives in the fight against the disease that year.
There is hope, however. By promoting breast cancer awareness, everyone – men and women – can call attention to this serious health risk. On the surface it might seem like simply raising awareness isn’t that significant of a step forward. Don’t trick yourself into thinking that, though. Breast cancer awareness leads to discussions, and discussions lead to increased scientific research and more individuals performing self-examinations.
Both of those elements are crucial in the fight against breast cancer. While the entire world is rightfully hoping for a cure to be discovered, there are myriad women who cannot wait long. There are women carrying the disease right here and now who do not yet know it. Scary as it may be, they need to find out. Every woman needs to find out.
It’s often said that “early detection is the best protection,” and that is no meaningless little rhyme. The earlier women discover that they have breast cancer, the more likely it is that the disease can be successfully treated. That means that by finding out early women can avoid becoming part of that 40,000+ statistic and can count themselves among the proud group of survivors.
Adult women of all ages should be giving themselves self-examinations a minimum of once a month. Just how important is it to do so? According to Johns Hopkins Medical Center, 40 percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are originally alerted to the problem when they feel a bump in their breasts while performing self-exams.
That, of course, does not mean that mammograms should be completely ignored in favor of self-exams. On the contrary, a mammogram is capable of detecting breast cancer before a noticeable lump forms. Regular self-exams, however, serve to familiarize women with the appearance and feel of their breasts, making it possible for them to let their physicians know if and when changes occur.
Breast self-exams can be performed while lying down, while standing in front of a mirror and/or while taking a shower. Women should perform inspections with their eyes as with their fingers to search for dimpling, lumps, swelling, thickening, hardened knots or changes in the contour or nipples.
If any of these changes are discovered, the best thing you can do is contact your healthcare provider immediately and schedule an appointment. Don’t be afraid – ignoring an issue won’t make it go away, but it might make it worse. And even if you do find a worrisome change in your breasts, there’s good news: the National Breast Cancer Foundation reports that eight out of 10 lumps are non-cancerous!