October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which means it’s time to talk about a tender subject: breasts and mammograms. In 2021 alone, more than 43,000 Americans died from breast cancer.
That perhaps coincides with falling mammogram screening rates; during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, screening rates nationwide fell as much as 63.7% nationwide.
While mammogram incidence has improved, research suggests rates are still less than 85% of what they were pre-pandemic.
Whatever the case, advances in both screening technology and medicine mean breast cancer is more treatable than ever. With regular screening mammograms and knowledge of how and when to perform self-examinations, together we can stop breast cancer in its tracks!
Is It Time For A Mammogram? Early Detection is Key to Beating Breast Cancer!
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 2021 only 66.7% of women 40 and over had completed a mammogram within the last two years.
At the same time, when caught early (diagnosed at the localized stage), the relative 5-year survival rate for breast cancer is 99%!
In other words, breast cancer is highly treatable–but it needs to be caught early. The ACA recommends regular screening beginning at age 40, but a number of risk factors, including genetics, can necessitate beginning screening earlier–and screening more often.
You don’t need a referral or recommendation from your PCP or OBGYN to schedule a mammogram. If you think it’s time, go ahead and schedule your procedure!
Self-Examination: Check Yourself Regularly!
While screening mammograms are a surefire way to diagnose breast cancer, self-examinations are just as important: forty percent of breast cancers are diagnosed after patients felt a lump and sought a mammogram!
Unlike mammograms (which the ACA recommends starting at age 40), self-breast exams are encouraged for adult women of all ages.
Here are the three best ways to perform self-breast exams!
In the Shower: While standing, check the entire breast and armpit area. Press down with light, medium, and firm pressure, and check both breasts at least once a month. Look for lumps, thickening, hardened knots, or any visible/noticeable changes in the breasts.
Lying Down: While prone, place a pillow under your shoulder and an arm behind your head. Check the entire surface of the breast, including the nipple and armpit, for discharge, lumps, or other abnormalities. Repeat for both breasts.
In Front of the Mirror: While standing, visibly inspect both breasts, both with your arms at your sides and over your head. Look for swelling, changes in the nipples, and differences in contour. Place your hands at your sides and flex your chest, looking for any changes, particularly on one side.
It’s important to remember that just because you feel something abnormal doesn’t mean it’s time to worry! Though many irregularities are simply hormonal changes or benign cysts, which don’t require treatment or intervention, it’s better to be on the safe side and schedule an appointment with your OBGYN or mammogram provider!
Get Screened, No Excuses!
Recent legislation has made mammograms more accessible to women nationwide.
The Affordable Care Act mandates most private insurers to cover the cost of women’s preventative health care services–like screening mammograms.
The New York State Mammography Law takes it a step further, mandating extended screening hours for mammography providers, eliminating cost-sharing deductibles/co-pays for mammography services, and even requiring employers to allow up to four hours of leave each year for breast cancer screening.
For women without health insurance, the New York State Cancer Services Program offers free screening and diagnostic services for eligible New Yorkers.
Not sure when, where, and how to get screened? Ask your doctor or OBGYN if you’re more at risk for developing breast cancer–and if you should start screening at age 40 or earlier.
Together We Can Squash Breast Cancer!
Doctors diagnose More than 260,000 cases of breast cancer each year. With early detection and self-screening, together we can catch more localized cases and save more lives.
This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, do your part to help save lives and lower the mortality rate from breast cancer!
Get your regular mammogram, perform self-examinations at least once a month, and help spread education and awareness!