I recently turned 40, and in addition to the expected over-the-hill jokes and “You’re how old?!” cards that came my way, I also received a reminder in the mail to schedule my first mammogram. Happy birthday to me!
To be honest, though, I was happy to schedule a breast cancer screening. I’m grateful this test is available since I know not many cancers have regular screenings available for early detection. There is a history of breast cancer in my family, and I am a huge proponent of being proactive with my health. I know previous generations of my family did not have access to life-saving cancer screenings such as mammograms.
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States. About 1 in 8 U.S. women (approximately 12 percent) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.
Luckily, there are routine screenings available that detect breast abnormalities early, when they are easier to treat. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so consider those pink ribbons a reminder to prioritize your health and talk your doctor about breast cancer screenings.
Early Detection is Empowering
When it comes to breast cancer, knowledge is power. And luckily, we’ve gained a lot of knowledge about breast cancer in the past few decades. For example, did you know that if breast cancer is caught in stages 0-1, the survival rate is close to 100 percent? That percentage goes down incrementally with every cancer stage. This underscores the need to detect breast cancer as early as possible. Luckily, we have a powerful tool when it comes to early detection: the mammogram.
Mammogram: A mammogram is a low-dose X-ray of the breast. According to the CDC, “For many women, mammograms are considered the best way to find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms.” In fact, studies show that women who have regular mammograms are “more likely to have breast cancer be detected earlier, are less likely to need aggressive treatments, and are more likely to be cured.”
Although the mammogram is the primary screening test for breast cancer, sometimes, other screening tests are used in conjunction with a mammogram. For example:
Breast MRI: A breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) captures detailed images of the breast. For some high-risk women, a screening MRI is recommended along with a yearly mammogram. (Note: MRIs are not recommended as a standalone screening because they can sometimes miss the presence of a tumor that a mammogram would otherwise find.)
Breast ultrasound: A breast ultrasound uses sound waves to make pictures of the breast. Oftentimes it’s used for women with dense breast tissue or as a follow-up test after an abnormal finding on a mammogram or MRI.
Not sure if you are eligible for screening? Find out the breast cancer screening recommendations for your age and risk level.
How to Reduce Your Risk for Breast Cancer
Although family history and genetics plays a role in individual breast cancer risk, a part of your risk also has to do with daily habits and lifestyle choices — things that are within your control. If you’re trying to reduce your risk for developing breast cancer (or many other diseases for that matter), you can:
- Quit smoking. If you smoke, vape, or use other types of tobacco, quitting will reduce your risk for several diseases, including breast cancer. Talk to your doctor about different programs, tools, and medications to help you quit.
- Stay active. Physical inactivity has been linked to an increased breast cancer risk. But staying active doesn’t have to be intimidating or overwhelming. Find an activity you love — such as hiking, yoga, tennis, or swimming — and it will be easier to get out there and move regularly. Studies show moderate exercise (2 ½ to 5 hours a week) may be enough to reduce your breast cancer risk.
- Eat your fruits and vegetables. Studies show that diet is a contributing factor to cancer, and that physical activity, a healthy diet (one low in fat and high in vegetables and fiber), and a healthy weight can help reduce breast cancer risk. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables often, and limit processed foods as much as possible.
- Watch your alcohol intake. While an occasional glass of red wine may be beneficial to your health, excessive alcohol intake is tied to an increased risk of breast cancer because it damages the DNA in cells.
There are other breast cancer risk factors as well, including age, family history, genetics, reproductive history, and race and ethnicity.
And don’t forget, men and trans and non-binary people can also be diagnosed with breast cancer.
Unite For HER
As part of our latest efforts to support people living with breast cancer, Independence Blue Cross (Independence) has teamed up with the nonprofit Unite for HER to empower breast and ovarian cancer patients by supporting wellness programs, events, and products that complement their treatment plan and positively impact their mind, body, and soul.
Independence has participated in several Unite for HER events, including a Wellness Day, a virtual 5K run/walk, and a program that sends self-care boxes to Medicare Advantage members who have been newly diagnosed with breast cancer.
Schedule Your Breast Cancer Screening Today
As women, we’ve been conditioned to put others first, but it’s time to practice the most important form of self-care — preventive care. This month, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, give yourself the gift of health. Beginning at age 40, women are covered for preventive mammography annually,1 so make your appointment today.1 Commercial members only. Your specific needs for preventive services may vary according to your personal risk factors. Your health care provider is always your best resource for determining if you’re at increased risk for a condition. Some services may require precertification/preapproval.