I sat in the waiting room, the pink top they gave me to wear was tied tightly around the side so as not to reveal anything. The room was filled with other women adorned in matching tops. One-by-one they went into the rooms designated for mammograms, and one-by-one they came out. Did they notice I hadn’t moved yet? I wonder when they will call my name? It has to be soon. It feels like I have been sitting in this place forever. I wonder if this will hurt? How long until I have the results? I hope whatever it is — that it’s benign.
For some, this is a familiar story. Whether a personal diagnosis, or the diagnosis of a loved one, many of us know someone whose life has been affected by breast cancer.
As women, we are taught early on the importance of breast self-examination and the necessity of annual mammograms for those who are 40 and over. We don’t learn these things to scare us, but because we understand the importance of early detection.
According to breastcancer.org, about one in eight U.S. women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. The website also states that “besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. In 2019, it’s estimated that about 30% of newly diagnosed cancers in women will be breast cancers.”
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we have asked Cincinnati OB-GYN David B. Schwartz, MD — who has had an independent private practice for 37 years — to answer some questions, with the hopes of relaying the importance of being proactive and taking the necessary steps for early breast cancer detection and prevention.
Is there anything women can do to help decrease their chance of breast cancer?
Yes. I recommend self-breast exams monthly and a baseline mammogram at the age of 35. Once a woman reaches the age of 40, I recommend yearly mammograms.
Are all breast lumps potentially cancerous?
All lumps need to be taken seriously, as they could be potentially cancerous. If you find a lump, contact your healthcare provider and schedule an appointment to have it evaluated.
Is breast cancer genetic?
Yes. If you have a family member with breast cancer, you have an increased risk, but more people will develop breast cancer who have no known risk.
Do you recommend genetic testing?
If you have a history of breast cancer in your family, I do recommend genetic testing. If you have a positive test result, then you can have more intensive testing done, such as digital mammography or MRIs of the breast.
Can you have genetic testing done if there is not a history of breast cancer in your family?
Anyone can have genetic testing done, but the question is who is going to pay for it. With significant family history, insurance is more likely to pay for genetic testing than for someone without significant history.
What else should women know?
Breast cancer is curable if it is diagnosed early. Please do your breast exams monthly and mammograms yearly after the age of 40.
My results did come back benign, but I know that isn’t the case for everyone. According to breastcancer.org, “for women in the U.S., breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer, besides lung cancer.” The earlier cancer is caught, the better the prognosis. Please be sure to perform your self-exams and schedule your yearly mammograms when the time comes. Let’s be proactive with our health and encourage one another in the fight against breast cancer.