Women often put the needs of their loved ones before their own. That may be truer than ever this year, as mothers juggle working from home, virtual learning and child care along with the usual, everyday responsibilities.
As members of the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program, we encourage women to take this month to prioritize their health as we observe Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Breast cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer, and the second-most common cause of cancer deaths among American women. An estimated 279,100 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed, and an estimated 42,690 women will die of this disease this year. In Wyoming, an estimated 430 women will be diagnosed and 60 will die of breast cancer. While we focus on women, it’s important to note that an estimated 2,620 men also will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. this year.
Mammograms are an effective tool for finding cancer early, when successful treatment is more likely. It is important to keep regular screening appointments. Fewer women are dying from breast cancer in recent decades – women are screened earlier, are more aware of symptoms and treatments have improved. The Prevent Cancer Foundation® and many other health organizations encourage women of average risk to begin annual screening at age 40. Women at high risk may need to begin annual mammograms earlier, or be screened more often, or may need to use other screening options, like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or 3D mammography.
Women at high risk include those with a family or personal history of breast or ovarian cancer, or those with inherited gene mutations, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2. Other factors that may increase cancer risk include beginning your menstrual period before age 12 or menopause after age 55, using hormone replace therapy (HRT) with estrogen and progesterone for more than 10 years, or currently or recently using birth control pills. Talk to your health care provider about your screening options if you are high risk.
Another proactive measure women can take toward detecting breast cancer includes breast self-exams. Women should perform a monthly examination of breasts to check for physical changes. If you are unsure of how to perform a breast self-exam, ask your health care provider to demonstrate and explain the ideal time to conduct one. It is very important for women to become familiar with their breasts and understand what feels normal.
Not only is it vital to schedule screening appointments, but also to establish healthy habits. Medical advice encourages women to maintain a healthy weight, be physically active, stop smoking, limit alcohol use, and eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables. As you take time to care for your family, act for your own health.
In Wyoming, the Department of Health coordinates the Wyoming Cancer Program, which reimburses participating health care providers for screening services such as mammograms. To find out if you qualify for the program, call 1-800-264-1296 or visit the website health.wyo.gov/cancer.
To learn more about scheduling routine screening appointments during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit preventcancer.org/backonthebooks. We encourage everyone to get screened. Screening is the best prevention we can give ourselves.
Diana Enzi is a 14-year colon cancer survivor, and active in volunteer organizations that encourage men and women to get appropriate screenings. Bobbi Barrasso is an 18-year breast cancer survivor, and active in volunteer organizations providing mammograms, low-cost screenings and health services. Both are members of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention program of the Prevent Cancer Foundation. They are the spouses of U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso. Statistics provided by the American Cancer Society.