A Woman's Best Protection Against Breast Cancer is Herself


Some call it "making an entrance." Others refer to it as being "fashionably late." Indeed, the practice of planning a delayed arrival to an event or social occasion is a relatively harmless way to attract attention.

But there is nothing fashionable, nor harmless, about a woman putting off, or forgetting, to conduct regular checks for breast cancer. During the month of October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, UnityPoint Health reminds women that the best protection against breast cancer is vigilance.

Grave Numbers

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, about one in eight U.S. women (just over 12 percent) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. In 2013, an estimated 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 64,640 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer. Invasive cancer is more likely to spread to other parts of the body.

For women in the U.S., breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer, besides lung cancer. About 39,000 women died in 2013 from breast cancer. Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. Just under 30 percent of cancers in women are breast cancers.

But There's Hope

While the numbers seem daunting, there is good news on the breast cancer front. When breast cancer is detected early, the five-year survival rate is 98 percent.

"Breast cancer incidence rates have been declining for more than a decade," said Dr. Bobby Koneru, a cancer expert at UnityPoint Health – Finley Hospital's Wendt Regional Cancer Center. "We're doing a better job of early detection, which significantly improves the long-term survival rate for patients. More effective treatments once a woman is diagnosed also are making an impact."

However, early detection becomes possible only when women are attuned to their health — taking the time to conduct monthly self-exams, seeing their personal physician regularly and getting an annual mammogram. As a rule, women are far better at taking care of their health than men, but with today's hectic lifestyles, even the most organized woman can forget or delay these important steps. Doing so means taking unnecessary risks.

Quick Catch, Early Treatment

Des Moines, Iowa native Terri Walker remained vigilant, and it may have saved her life. In May, she had her annual mammogram. Some calcium deposits were detected and a stereotactic biopsy was ordered. Terri did have breast cancer, and she was immediately surrounded by a team at UnityPoint Health – John Stoddard Cancer Center. She learned about her surgery options and her care coordinator helped her navigate through the information, chemo treatments, surgery and recovery. Today, Terri's health is very good. She gives credit to both the care she received and the early detection. "My care though UnityPoint Health was wonderful," said Terri. "But if I had put my mammogram off, I would have probably been in really big trouble."

As this story demonstrates, there's only one way to beat breast cancer — tackle it head on. A woman who puts off a mammogram for fear of receiving bad news may be dramatically compounding her situation if the cancer is diagnosed in later stages.

Staying on Top of Your Health

"So how does a busy woman, deeply involved in family and/or work, remember to do her self-exams and schedule her screenings? Well, if you are a woman over 40 the first step is to schedule this year's mammogram. No referral is needed.   Search "mammogram" on our site to learn about services close to you.

The next step is to go into your calendar and set monthly reminders for self-checks and an annual reminder for your mammogram. Or, if you need a little encouragement there is also the old-fashioned buddy system. A group of close friends can pledge to check in regularly and remind each other."

However you choose to plan to remember to do monthly self-exams and annual mammograms, knowing the benefits of early breast cancer detection should provide ample motivation for being timely.

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