You wash your hands to prevent the flu and stretch your muscles when you workout to prevent injury. Why not take steps to prevent cancer too?
February may be National Cancer Prevention month, but every month is about cancer prevention (and early detection!) here at Bright Pink.
We teamed up with all-star OB/GYN and blogger Dr. Wendy McDonald, aka Dr. Every Woman, to break down what early detection and self-awareness mean and how you can use these strategies to prevent cancer. You can also watch her Facebook Live on cancer prevention!
How can early detection protect us from breast cancer?
Dr. Wendy: First, we need to review what early detection means.
Stage 0 and Stage 1:
Both Stage 0 and Stage 1 breast cancer have over a 99% 5-year survival rate. That means that in the 5 years after diagnosis, 99% of people will still be alive.
Now, in Stage 2, breast cancer has either spread to the lymph nodes or is significantly larger. The 5-year survival rate for Stage 2 is 93%.
In Stage 3, the cancer is even larger or has spread to many lymph nodes. Now the 5-year survival rate has dropped to around 85%.
This is why early detection is so extremely important. The earlier you detect a cancer, the more likely you are to beat it.
So many people don’t want to find out that they have cancer because they think that it’s a death sentence. Instead, they should think of early breast cancer detection as a new lease on life, an opportunity to beat cancer because it was caught early. That should be a thing.
What are some tools to better prepare for early detection & cancer prevention?
Dr. Wendy: Personal risk assessments are a great place to start! Risk assessments analyze information that you provide to predict your personal risk of breast cancer. These tools are extremely useful in identifying whether or not you need additional screening and testing above what is recommended for the average woman.
If you know that any of your first- or second-degree family members had a certain type of cancer, you will be more prepared to screen and catch any abnormalities.
Remember that the earlier you detect breast cancer, the more likely you are to survive and fight back.
What is the recommended age to learn your risk & get a personalized prevention plan?
Dr. Wendy: 18 or even younger. Why not? Ask your parents and extended family. Any family history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and colon cancer is relevant, as are your habits and personal characteristics.
Why do you think women choose not to learn their risk?
Dr. Wendy: Lack of Family Health History. Honestly, I think that one of the barriers is knowledge of family history. Many families in various cultures just don’t share. If grandmother died of something, that was “her business.”
We also sometimes don’t want to “speak” illness, as if talking about it causes it in some way. While I believe in the power of positive thinking and prayer, we should be informed about what is going on in our family so that we can prevent or catch issues early in the future.
I’ve learned my risk and have my personalized prevention plan, now what?
Dr. Wendy: Have a conversation with your doctor or healthcare provider, especially if your risk is elevated. You’ll need to start additional or different screening if you have a higher risk.
What are some common breast cancer risk factors to watch for, especially for African American women?
Breast density refers to the amount of fibroglandular tissue present in the breast. Fibroglandular tissue appears as white on the mammogram, making it difficult to visually detect breast cancers. The increased density is noted even when other demographic factors like age, weight, and pregnancy history are factored in.
Increased breast density can absolutely make finding breast cancer harder. A breast cancer will also light up as white on traditional mammography, which can be hidden behind fibroglandular tissue. I often send my patients with dense breasts to have a 3-D mammogram and an ultrasound if needed. That different type of imaging, used in combination with mammography, can detect a higher number of abnormalities than traditional mammography alone.
(Want to learn more about reducing cancer risks for Black women? Check out our Facebook Live featuring Dr. Wendy and Dr. Kiarra King!)
For additional advice and to learn more about her work, visit Dr. Wendy’s fun and informational website.
P.S. Dr. Wendy wants to give a gentle reminder: men can get breast cancer, too.