Putting My Best Breast Forward
It’s October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I am about to leave to for my annual mammogram, which always unnerves me just a bit.
The disease does not run in my family (if it does, it can double your risk), however studies show that 70% to 80% of breast cancer patients have no family history. Also, I know that breast cancer is most often diagnosed in women after menopause. Because of these statistics for the last few years during my trip to the doctor I have also been getting an ultrasound as an added precaution.
Even though I have no real reason to feel that I will be diagnosed with a problem, I will tell you that sitting in that office waiting for the results is so anxiety producing that I am nervous just thinking about it. So being the little research junkie that I am, I find that Googling everything that’s been written about breast cancer in recent months helps to dispel my anxiety, especially when I find things that make me laugh!
So before I leave for my appointment, I really must share with you my favorite findings:
In honor of my upcoming mammogram today, here's a little humor to lighten up our day (author unknown)...
Many women are afraid of their first mammogram, but there is no need to worry. By taking a few minutes each day for a week preceding the exam and doing the following exercises, you will be totally prepared for the test! Best of all, these simple exercises can be done at home.
Open your refrigerator door and insert one breast in the door. Have one of your strongest friends slam the door shut and lean on it for good measure. Hold that position for 5 seconds. Repeat with other breast.
Visit your garage at 3 am when the temperature of the cement floor is just perfect. Remove your clothes and lie comfortably on the floor with one breast wedged under the rear tire of the car. Ask a friend to slowly back up the car until your breast is sufficiently flattened and chilled. Turn over and repeat for the other breast.
Freeze two metal bookends overnight. Strip to the waist. Invite a stranger into the room. Press the bookends against one of your breasts. Ask the stranger to smash the bookends together as hard as they can. Set an appointment with the stranger to meet next year and do it again.
You are now properly prepared!
10 Mammogram Excuses Busted
By Miranda Hitti, WebMD Feature, Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
You know you should get your routine mammogram, but you haven't. And, no doubt, you've got your reasons for putting it off.
Chances are those reasons don't hold up, especially when you consider that breast cancer is easiest to treat and survive when it's found early, which starts with getting a mammogram.
So prepare to get your mammogram excuses busted. Oh, and grab your doctor's phone number so you can schedule your appointment when you're done reading.
1. Breast cancer doesn't run in my family, so I don't need to go.
Having a family history of breast cancer is a breast cancer risk factor. But it's not the whole story.
The American Cancer Society's web site states that "having one first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer approximately doubles a woman's risk. Having two first-degree relatives increases her risk about 5-fold."
But the American Cancer Society also notes that 70% to 80% of breast cancer patients don't have a family history of the disease.
The bottom line: Even if there's no breast cancer in your family tree, you're not home free.
2. I don't feel any breast lumps, so I don't need to get checked.
Not having any breast lumps doesn't rule out cancers that are too small to feel. Breast cancer can start long before a tumor is big enough to feel.
"Mammograms can often show a breast lump before it can be felt," according to the National Cancer Institute's (NCI) web site. The NCI also notes that mammograms can show lumps or specks that may be from cancer, precancerous cells, or other conditions that would require further testing.
3. The mammogram is going to hurt.
When you get a mammogram, your breasts will be compressed briefly in different positions in order for the mammogram X-rays to be taken.
"Although the compression can be uncomfortable and even painful for some women, it only lasts for a few seconds" in each position, the American Cancer Society notes.
A numbing gel may help deal with mammogram pain, researchers reported in July 2008.
4. I'm too busy.
Getting a mammogram only takes about 20 minutes once you get into the mammography room. You may need to wait around a little bit longer while the technician makes sure he has all the images he needs, but it's not a lengthy process.
5. I'm too young for breast cancer.
Breast cancer is most often diagnosed in women after menopause, but it can happen decades earlier.
According to the American Cancer Society, about one in eight invasive breast cancers are found in women younger than 45; about two-thirds of invasive breast cancers are found in women aged 55 or older.
Three well-known women who were diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age are singers Sheryl Crow (diagnosed at age 44) and Kylie Minogue (diagnosed at age 36) and actress Christina Applegate (diagnosed at age 36). Talk to you doctor about when you should begin screening mammograms. Some experts recommend yearly mammograms starting at age 40. Others recommend starting at age 50 and having mammograms every two years. Of course, if you have a breast lump or other abnormality at any age, you need to get it checked out.
The American Cancer Society does recommend that women in their 20s and 30s get a clinical breast exam as part of a routine checkup done by a health professional, preferably every three years and every year after age 40. And of course, any breast lumps should get prompt medical attention.
6. I have dense breasts, so a mammogram won't help.
Dense breasts, which are a breast cancer risk factor, can make it more challenging to read a mammogram, but that doesn't mean the mammogram isn't worthwhile. Your doctor may suggest additional imaging tests -- such as an ultrasound or MRI -- but those tests don’t replace mammography.
7. I exercise, eat right, and live a healthy lifestyle.
Good for you! A healthy lifestyle may lower your risk of breast cancer (and many other diseases), but it doesn't eliminate your risk. You still need to get checked; routine screening belongs on your list of healthy habits.
8. I'm not in a high-risk group.
Many factors can make breast cancer more likely. But even if you don't have any of those risk factors, breast cancer can still happen. So get appropriate screening anyway, even if you think you're at low risk.
9. I can't afford it.
If you are enrolled in Medicare, it will cover most of the costs of a preventive (screening) mammogram every 12 months. Patients would pay 20% of the Medicare-approved mammography cost.
Medicare will also pay for a diagnostic mammogram, which is done to check out a specific breast problem, at any time, notes the National Cancer Institute.
For more information on Medicare coverage of mammograms, call 800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227). If you have private health insurance, check with your health insurance provider to see about your mammography benefits. The National Cancer Institute notes that most states require health insurers to reimburse all or part of the cost of screening mammograms.
If you don’t have Medicare or other health insurance, the National Cancer Institute suggests calling the CDC at 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) or the NCI's Cancer Information Service at 400-4-CANCER (800-422-6237), or your local hospital, health department, women's center, or other community groups to find out about access to low-cost or free mammograms.
10. What if they find something? It's too scary.
Better to find out and deal with it now, not later. If you do have breast cancer, it could be a lot scarier if you don't find out until your cancer is more advanced.
You won't walk out of your mammogram appointment with a cancer diagnosis. If there is something suspicious to investigate, you'll get further tests to figure out if it's breast cancer or something benign. The mammogram itself is just the first step -- but it's a crucial one.
Just ask Elizabeth Edwards, who has stage IV breast cancer. Edwards, the wife of former senator and presidential candidate John Edwards, told WebMD in May 2009 that before her breast cancer diagnosis, she wasn't always diligent about getting routine mammograms.
"Had I done the testing I needed to do, the treatment I would have gotten might not have been as aggressive," Edwards said. "You don't save yourself anything" by putting screening off, Edwards said. "It does not change the reality. It only changes your options."