Last year I reached a major life marker in the form of my 50th birthday. Now – a full year into my fifties – I’m noticing bodily changes and limitations I didn’t have in my thirties and forties. And, reaching the age of fifty made me really and truly face the fact that I’m not going to live forever… who knew?!
And here’s a fact I now have to face — for the average woman living in the U.S. the odds of getting breast cancer increase significantly once she enters her fifties. It’s not something I dwell on but when Breast Cancer Awareness Month rolls around, I pay more attention to prevention messages than I did as a younger woman.
I’ve been reading the American Cancer Society website and I thought I’d pass some information along to our readers. Keep in mind that this isn’t a substitute for medical advice from a licensed practitioner. I’m just sharing some information in hopes that it helps you stay healthy.
Breast Cancer Prevention —
Although there are no guarantees, research shows that certain lifestyle factors reduce the risk of breast cancer. The first time I saw these guidelines I was surprised at the common sense-ness of them. Here’s the list:
- Avoid being overweight
- Eat a healthy diet
- Stay physically active
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Don’t smoke
Yup, nothing new there.
But even if I followed all of these guidelines (some of which I admittedly struggle with) there’s no assurance of immunity to breast cancer.
That’s why screening is so, so important. As the Breast Cancer Awareness Month motto says, early detection is your best protection.
Breast Cancer Screening —
Maine’s family planning health centers follow the guidelines of the American Cancer Society and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. And those recommendations are:
- Clinical breast exams and mammograms every year for women age 40 and older
- Clinical breast exams are recommended every three years for women in their 20’s and 30’s (if a patient would like a yearly breast exam as part of her regular annual health exam, we will provide it for her)
- Know your breasts — research has shown that breast self-exams play a small role in finding breast cancer compared with finding a breast lump by chance or simply being aware of what is normal for you.
Other Breast Cancer Info —
Some women, because of family history or inherited genetic mutations, have a higher than average risk of contracting breast cancer. These women should talk with their health care practitioner about what screenings make the most sense for them.
Another thing to keep in mind — although breast cancer is 100 times more common in women, men can get it too. While regular screening is not recommended for men, following the healthy living guidelines mentioned above doesn’t hurt.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t debunk the myth perpetuated by anti-choice proponents who claim that there’s a link between abortion and breast cancer. Nope. Not true, says the American Cancer Society.
There it is — a brief, general guide to breast cancer prevention and screening.
What are your breast cancer prevention strategies? Maybe I’ll see you on the walking path as I try to make my fifties a healthy, happy decade.