By Kim Sorensen
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month and an opportunity for women to take charge of their health by learning how to detect breast cancer at its earliest and most treatable stage. Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando provides breast cancer education and screening to thousands of women across Central Florida and we have one message for women this October: It is never too early to take charge of your health.
In fact, women of all ages can become their own best breast health experts in four steps. No matter how old you are or what your family history is, make healthy decisions that can reduce your risk of breast cancer. Maintain a healthy weight, and make exercise a part of your life. Breastfeed if you can. Limit alcohol and don’t smoke. Step two is finding out if you’re at increased risk for breast cancer. Talk to your family. You may be at increased risk if your mother, sister, or grandmother had breast or ovarian cancer, or if you have a male relative who has had breast cancer, and you should tell your health care provider about your family history. Step three is practicing breast self-awareness, which means knowing what your breasts normally look and feel like.
Talk to a health care provider as soon as possible if you notice any changes. It might be less serious than you imagine, but you should have it checked out.
Step four is getting regular checkups and screenings as appropriate for your age and family history. Planned Parenthood and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend a clinical breast exam as part of a well-woman visit every one to three years for women ages 20 to 39, and every year for women 40 and over.
If a woman has a family history of breast cancer or other medical conditions, her clinician may recommend more frequent screening. Planned Parenthood and ACOG recommend that women get yearly mammograms starting at age 40. The final step is telling another woman in your life about the importance of being “breast aware”. Share these tips with a friend, sister, or daughter so she too can take charge of her health and make an appointment for her breast exam.
Some women put off breast cancer screenings due to lack of information, limited access to care, or fear. Friends and family can help by passing along information about the importance of early detection and where to go for an exam such as a Planned Parenthood health center. The fact is early detection is critically important. The work that Planned Parenthood health center doctors and nurses do helps to identify potential cancer early — when it’s most treatable. Every year, Planned Parenthood health centers provide 550,000 clinical breast exams at health centers across the country, helping women take charge of their health and get the care they need. Earlier this month a 37 year old woman made an appointment with Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando for her annual exam.
Through her exam we detected a lump that was later determined to be highly suspicious. Since then, she has met with a breast health specialist—this patient suspected nothing, but with a regular check up we were able to help her get the care she needs to stay healthy and strong. There are women all across Central Florida just like her — women who are thriving and achieving their dreams because they learned what to watch for and how to get regular checkups.
This month, let’s commit to making sure even more women get the information and care they need to stay healthy.
Kimberly Sorensen, MSN, FNP Associated Medical Director at Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando