October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness about the most common cancer among women worldwide, and being disabled does not protect you from it. Every year in the United States, approximately 240,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, and sadly, 42,000 women lose their lives to this disease. While breast cancer can also affect men, it is relatively rare, accounting for just 1% of all breast cancer cases diagnosed in the country. Although the majority of breast cancer cases occur in women aged 50 or older, it’s important to note that breast cancer can also impact younger women. Breast cancer affects millions of lives every year, but early detection and understanding your risk can make a huge difference.
Know the Symptoms
Lump or Thickening: Check for any unusual lumps or thickening in your breast or underarm area.
Change in Breast Shape or Size: Know how your breasts usually look and feel and examine them regularly (by doing a breast self-exam). Learn what is normal for you. Look out for redness, dimpling, or rash on the breast skin.
Pain or Tenderness: Persistent pain or tenderness in the breast or nipple should not be ignored.
• Report any changes to your healthcare provider right away.
• Get regular breast cancer screening exams — both: clinical breast exams (when your health care provider looks at and feels your breasts and underarms), and mammography exams (an X-ray that makes an image of the breast).
Certain factors increase your risk of getting breast cancer:
Gender and Age: Women over 50 are more likely to develop breast cancer.
Family History: If someone in your family had breast cancer, your risk is higher.
Genetics: Some genetic mutations increase the risk. Consider genetic testing if it runs in your family.
Hormone Replacement Therapy: Long-term use of hormones after menopause may increase risk.
Lifestyle Choices: Smoking, excessive alcohol, lack of physical activity, and an unhealthy diet can contribute.
Early Detection Saves Lives
Regular breast self-exams and mammograms are key to early detection. Mammograms are like X-rays for your breasts and can spot cancer before you feel any symptoms. Doctors recommend starting mammograms at age 40 or earlier if you have risk factors.
Having a mammogram used to be challenging for people with certain disabilities. However, times have changed. The design of the machine has been modified to accommodate people with disabilities. Although not every facility uses the redesigned version of it, it is available in many places. When scheduling an appointment, it is important to make sure that the facility is accessible. When calling for a mammogram appointment, ask if the mammography facility is FDA-approved. Tell the scheduling staff about your disability so the mammography staff will be better prepared to help you during the appointment. At the Independence Now, Public Health Specialists are there to help you find a location that will be accessible for mammograms and other necessary tests.
To help you prepare for your exam:
• Speak with your health care provider about anti-spastic (movement) and/or pain medication before the mammogram.
• Wear a two-piece outfit with a shirt that is easy to remove.
• Do not wear deodorant, powders, or lotions on or near your breasts and underarms.
• Bring your insurance card.
• Make sure you understand your family history of breast cancer.
• Know the dates of your prior mammograms.
• Know where you received earlier mammograms and your doctor’s name/address.
Prevention and Awareness
Awareness about breast cancer will help prevent it or will help get caught early enough to get treatment.
Healthy Lifestyle: Maintain a healthy weight, stay physically active, and limit alcohol intake.
Breastfeed: If you have children, breastfeeding can reduce your risk.
Know Your Family History: Share it with your doctor so they can assess your risk.
Support and Resources
If you or a loved one is diagnosed with breast cancer, there are many resources and support groups available. Reach out to them for guidance and emotional support. There are many resources available for the residents of Prince George’s County and Montgomery County. Both counties provide free mammograms to people who are uninsured. People who want to get a free mammogram through the county, have to go through the application process.
Click the links below to learn more:
Women with low incomes or those without insurance can use the CDC website to locate screening programs nearby here: https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbccedp/screenings.htm
Breast cancer is a battle many have faced and overcome. It’s important to spread awareness, encourage regular check-ups, and support those affected by it. Remember, early detection can save lives. CDC is doing “The Right to Know” campaign to create awareness and to encourage women with disabilities to do breast screening and take the steps to fight breast cancer because together, we can make a difference. Learn more here: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/righttoknow/index.html