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 childcare along with the usual everyday responsibilities. As a member of the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program®, I encourage you to take this month to prioritize your health as we observe Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Breast cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer and second-most common cause of cancer deaths among American women. An estimated 276,480 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed and an estimated 42,170 women will die of this disease this year. In Maryland, an estimated 5,500 will be diagnosed and 850 will die of breast cancer.
Mammograms are an effective tool for finding cancer early, when successful treatment is more likely, so it is important that you don’t delay your screening appointments. Fewer people are dying from breast cancer in recent decades—women are screened earlier and are more aware of symptoms, and treatments have also 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.
High risk women 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 your 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. Black women are twice as likely as women of other racial and ethnic groups to be diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, which is harder to treat. Talk to your health care provider about your screening options if you are high risk.
Not only is it vital to schedule your screening appointments, but you should also establish healthy habits. Do not smoke, limit alcohol to no more than one drink a day (if any), exercise regularly, and eat a diet filled with fruits and vegetables. As you take time to care for your family, act for your own health. To learn more about scheduling routine screening appointments during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit preventcancer.org/backonthebooks.
Nicole Beus Harris is the spouse of Representative Andy Harris, M.D. Statistics provided by the American Cancer Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.