As a mom, you typically take care of everyone else in the family first. But to continue to play the role of caretaker for years to come, you have to look after yourself too. Give yourself the gift of good health and take the time to schedule a screening that could save your life—a mammogram.
There are no sure things in medicine, but mammograms, which can find breast cancer in its earliest stages, come pretty close.
“Mammograms, which are X-ray images of the breast, can detect something two years before we can see or feel it,” said LeAnn Haddock, MD, an OBGYN on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas. “And because early detection is key to effectively treating cancer, mammograms are our best line of defense against breast cancer.”
Put mammograms on your to-do list
Each week, a new headline heralds this-or-that study questioning the value of screening mammograms. Should you start screening at age 40 or 50? Every year or every other year? It’s tough to cut through the clutter.
Dr. Haddock recommends getting a mammogram every year, beginning at age 40.
“Risk increases as you age, so you never graduate from breast cancer screenings,” Dr. Haddock said.
“By the time you are 8 years old, you have a one in eight chance of developing breast cancer.”
Keep in mind that you may need to start screening earlier based on your family history and personal risk factors.
“Typically, we recommend women have the exam 10 years before the age that their relative was when they had their first diagnosis,” Dr. Haddock said.
Mammograms matter. Yearly mammograms can reduce the risk of dying of breast cancer by 40 percent and survival is better than 98 percent for women whose cancer is found early. For detailed recommendations for the early detection of breast cancer for low and high-risk women, see the American Cancer Society guidelines.
What you can do to lower your breast cancer risk
Like anything you face in your role as a mom, knowledge is power. Along with screening for breast cancer, there are ways to proactively boost your breast health by understanding your risks. Some factors associated with breast cancer can’t be changed, such as being a woman, age and family history, but there are plenty of everyday choices you can make to reduce your risk and protect your breast health.
Maintain a healthy weight
Overweight women have a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer compared to those who maintain a healthy weight, especially after menopause, when having more fat tissue can raise estrogen levels and increase the chances of getting breast cancer. Consult your doctor about what is considered your ideal weight range for your height and body type.
Healthy eating choices, focused on a variety of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains, can help you lose and maintain your weight, and lower your risk.
Regular exercise can help you maintain your ideal healthy weight and regulate hormone levels, which can lower your breast cancer risk. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic intensity activity each week.
The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer. If you choose to drink, the general recommendation — based on research on the effect of alcohol on breast cancer risk — is to limit yourself to no more than one drink a day.
Explore your hormone replacement options
Some forms of hormone replacement therapy (those that include both estrogen and progesterone) have been shown to raise the risk of breast cancer and increase breast density making it harder to find breast cancer on a mammogram. Talk with your doctor about all the options to control your menopause symptoms, including the risks and benefits of each. If you decide to try HRT, the American Cancer Society recommends using the lowest dose that works for you and for as short a time as possible.
Taking the time to reach out to your physician is the first step in being proactive about your health. Don’t delay.
Schedule your mammogram online today at a breast imaging center near you.