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#BCAM, Assess Your Risk, Early Detection, Hey Sis

Dr. Wendy McDonald: Live That Prevention Life

Prevention Tips & How Early Detection Can Increase Your Odds of Survival

Knowledge is power. Every year for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, folks across the country take part in essential conversations about protecting our health and happiness. Through these conversations, they start to build self-knowledge—and this year, Bright Pink wants to take awareness to the next level.

This year, Bright Pink is all about Breast Cancer ACTION Month. Turn to Bright Pink throughout October to access the tools you need to be all about it, too.

To get started, all-star OB/GYN and blogger Dr. Wendy McDonald, aka Dr. Every Woman, breaks down how to turn self-awareness into cancer prevention, in plain language that everyone can understand. 

Check it out, and get your questions answered. And make sure to read all the way to the end to see the next step to protect your bright future during Breast Cancer Awareness &  ACTION Month! And, stop by Bright Pink’s Facebook page to watch our Facebook Live with Dr. Wendy.

How Early Detection Can Protect You 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. 

Stage 2: Now, in Stage 2, the breast cancer has either spread to the lymph nodes or is significantly larger. The 5-year survival rate for Stage 2 is 93%.

Stage 3: 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 is 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. 

Tools to Prepare Yourself for Early Detection & Cancer Prevention
Dr. Wendy: Personal risk assessment 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 your first- or second-degree family member(s) 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.

This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re encouraging all women to #AssessThenAct: take the Assess Your Risk quiz, and then create a preventive action plan with your personalized results. It only takes 5 minutes!

Take Bright Pink’s Assess Your Risk Quiz

Important Next Steps After Completing a Personal Risk Assessment
Dr. Wendy: Have a conversation with your doctor or healthcare provider. If your risk is elevated especially, further or different screening should be initiated.

Common Breast Cancer Risk Factors to Watch For, Especially in African American Women

Dr. Wendy: Research has shown that black women have significantly denser breast that caucasian 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. 

Dr. Wendy Weighs In On Why She Thinks People Don’t Assess 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.” 

Taboo Conversations: 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.

The Recommended Age for Assessing Your Risk

Dr. Wendy: 18 or younger. Why not? Ask your parents and extended family. Breast cancer family history, ovarian cancer, and colon cancer are all relevant, as are habits and personal characteristics.

This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re encouraging all women to #AssessThenAct: take the Assess Your Risk quiz, and then create a preventive action plan with your personalized results. It only takes 5 minutes!

Take Bright Pink’s Assess Your Risk Quiz

A huge thank you to Dr. Wendy McDonald for helping us put together this guide to early detection, self-awareness, and risk factors! Check out more of her advice and work on her amazing website. And, don’t forget to visit Bright Pink’s Facebook page to watch our Facebook Live with Dr. Wendy.

P.S. Dr. Wendy wants to give a gentle reminder: men can get breast cancer, too.

#OCAM, Assess Your Risk

How “Knowing Your Normal” Can Save Your Life

We all have those days. The days we go all out at our favorite ice cream place and our stomach painfully reminds us why we don’t eat a ton of dairy. Or those days when it’s “that time of the month” and our stomach is in knots or we seem to spend a lot more time in the bathroom. Those days aren’t fun, but they can be part of a normal, healthy life for women. 

However, sometimes they aren’t. Each year, about 20,000 women in the U.S. receive a diagnosis of ovarian cancer after they notice things like digestive issues, abdominal pain, frequent urges to pee that don’t go away. 

This can be a scary reality but there are steps you can take to prevent your risk of ovarian and breast cancer. If you have the power to take your future health into your hands, why wouldn’t you?

concerned young woman

The first step is to know your risk. Take 5 minutes to Assess Your Risk and receive your results with personalized prevention recommendations that you can implement today.

Early detection is also key– the earlier the stage, the easier it is to find successful treatment options. Ovarian cancer is no exception, but as many health providers will tell you, finding ovarian cancer in its early stages is extremely challenging. First of all, there are no regular screening tests for women (no, your Pap smear isn’t checking for ovarian cancer!). Secondly, since your ovaries are located pretty deep within your body, you often can’t physically feel any initial changes in their size or shape from developing tumors. 

Because ovarian cancer is not as easily detected it is so important that you recognize the signs and symptoms and know your normal to catch it as early as possible. 

woman looking in bathroom mirror

So what are you looking for?

Primary symptoms of ovarian cancer include:  

  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Prolonged bloating
  • Frequently needing to pee
  • Having trouble eating or feeling full quickly

Secondary Symptoms include: 

  • Upset stomach
  • Constipation
  • Back pain
  • Menstrual changes
  • Pain during intercourse

These problems can be signs that something isn’t right. (Find out more about watching for these symptoms)  

You may be thinking – that just sounds like a normal period! And you’re right, you may have some of these symptoms for a day or two around your period. However, when these symptoms don’t go away – you consistently have them for 2-3 weeks and they aren’t improving – you should check in with a healthcare provider. 

uncomfortable woman wrapped in blanket

Do these symptoms sound like your life for the past month or so? If so, don’t panic. Ovarian cancer is one of many conditions that could cause these problems. However, you still need to talk to your provider about these symptoms so they can run tests for ovarian cancer – especially if you have a family history of cancer (not just ovarian!) and/or a genetic mutation that could increase your risk.

While women without a family history or genetic mutations have about a 1.3% chance of developing ovarian cancer in their lifetime, women with a family history of cancer or a genetic mutation have a much higher risk. Some genetic mutations can raise your risk of developing ovarian cancer to almost 50% over your lifetime. (Don’t know your family history? We got you!

This Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month is a perfect time to take charge of your ovarian health, so you’ll be informed and ready to face any symptoms life may throw your way well before you start feeling them. 

Take the first step to cancer prevention and early detection.

Find out your ovarian (and breast) cancer risk with Bright Pink’s Assess Your Risk quiz and start living proactively today! 

#OCAM, Assess Your Risk

#AssessThenAct: All About Genetic Testing

Worrying about developing breast and ovarian cancer is only natural—but you don’t have to be in the dark about your risk factors. If you know or suspect that your family has a history of breast or ovarian cancer, you have options. Genetic testing is a powerful tool that can help you put aside your doubts and become self-aware when it comes to your health. Getting a genetic test might be part of your personalized plan for cancer prevention—and knowing your risk factors is a key first step.

This Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, we’re encouraging everyone to #AssessThenAct: take the Assess Your Risk quiz, and then create a preventative action plan to protect your health. Get started in just 5 minutes today.

Take the Assess Your Risk Quiz

Sis, have you ever contemplated genetic testing (a type of medical test that identifies changes in chromosomes, genes, or proteins)? It’s a powerful way to take charge of your breast and ovarian health that can 

  • Confirm or rule out a suspected mutation in your DNA or
  • Help determine your chance of developing or passing on a genetic disorder. 

While there can be significant benefits to the knowledge gained through genetic testing, we know this isn’t always easy, especially for women of color. We are not blind to the fact that there is mistrust in the medical system in part due to widely publicized experiments, and racial bias in the healthcare system. Before signing up for genetic testing, many Black women have to overcome deeply-rooted concern about the potential misuse of DNA results and mistrust of health research, which has not always benefited them and was sometimes conducted without their consent. We hope that learning more about the benefits of testing, what to expect, and which professionals to rely on throughout the process will help you make informed choices that are right for you.

Understanding Your Genetics is Important

When you want to be proactive about your health…

Understanding the basics of genetics—especially how mutations can lead to a higher risk of certain cancers—gives you better information about your overall health plan. About genetic testing. And about discussions to have with your healthcare provider.

When your family history indicates a pattern…

A family history of cancer may mean there’s an underlying genetic cause. Once you understand how genes and mutations work, you’re better equipped to work through your family history—and better equipped for conversations with your healthcare provider or a genetic counselor.

Your healthcare provider is likely to recommend testing if you have certain medically significant risk factors. If your personal or family health history includes any of the following (from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network), you should strongly consider testing.

  • Breast cancer by age 45
  • Breast cancer by 50 AND a close relative with breast or ovarian cancer by 50
  • Male breast cancer in your family
  • Breast cancer at any age AND two or more relatives with breast cancer at any age
  • Cancer in both breasts
  • Ovarian, primary peritoneal or fallopian cancer at any age
  • A close relative with a BRCA mutation or another mutation that increases the risk of developing cancer.
  • Triple-negative breast cancer

When you’re curious, or you want to fill in the gaps…

A complete family history means going back at least three generations. That’s not always possible, so understanding your own genetic makeup can help you—and your healthcare provider—work backward to fill in the gaps. And even if you’re simply curious about your own health, understanding your genetic risks is a proactive way to get a better overall view.

Asking the Right Questions

Finding someone to talk to is one thing, but being sure that you are asking the right questions… is another. Some questions that you should consider include:

  • Am I a candidate for genetic testing? Should I consider it?
  • Do you have any good ways to spark discussions with my relatives about our health history?
  • Based on my family history, what’s my chance of testing positive for a genetic mutation? What’s my projected risk for developing breast and/or ovarian cancer?
  • If someone in my family has tested positive for a known genetic mutation, what are the chances that I’m also a carrier?
  • What type of test do you recommend?
  • What’s our plan if I test positive, negative, VUS?
  • What type of cancer screenings do you recommend for me if I decide not to get tested?

We’ve gone ahead and created a full list of questions to help guide your conversations with your healthcare provider or genetic counselor.

At the end of the day, the more you understand about your personal risk for breast and ovarian cancer, the better equipped you’ll be to make the healthy choices that are right for you. So you can live your best life.

#OCAM, Assess Your Risk, Early Detection, Personal Stories

Why Early Detection Matters: Morgan’s Story

Did you know? About 21,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year, and of those, 14,000 die from it. That’s essentially ⅔ ratio. This year, I became one of those 21,000; however, I’m also incredibly lucky to be one of the fortunate ones who caught it before it was too late.

Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month is important to me because there is so much that we, as women, don’t know about our bodies and how we can be proactive about our health.

My Story

At 34, I was the epitome of a healthy young woman. I eat clean, don’t smoke, exercise regularly, and wear sunscreen. One day, I walked into the doctor’s office and found out I have cancer.

My journey started with a gut feeling. In recent years, I’d had a number of friends who had confided in me about their trouble conceiving and, as an unmarried woman in my early 30’s who desperately wants children one day, I decided to trust my instincts and look into freezing my eggs.

At my initial appointment, the doctors gave me an ultrasound which revealed a large ovarian cyst on my right ovary. The doctors assured me it was nothing, “99% chance it’s benign” but nonetheless, they recommended I have surgery to remove it so it wouldn’t rupture and cause more severe internal damage. I reluctantly agreed.

Surgery number one was scheduled in September. The plan was to have the cyst removed and then I could proceed with egg freezing; however, after surgery, I walked in to my follow up appointment for the biopsy results and got the news everyone dreads hearing.

On October 5, 2017 I was diagnosed with immature teratoma (stage 1) ovarian cancer. As the doctors explained to me, the initial cyst was benign; however, during surgery, they found another tumor that none of the scans had shown. That tumor was cancerous.

The next few weeks were a blur. I saw numerous doctors for second and even third opinions to understand what was going on in my body and what was the best course of action for my treatment. After reviewing all options, the treatment plan was outlined to have surgery to remove my right ovary and, as long as the cancer hadn’t spread, I wouldn’t have to proceed with chemotherapy.

I felt so many emotions during those weeks leading up to surgery. I wondered how on earth this was happening to me, why I didn’t know and what signs I missed. As someone who is extremely type A, I scoured my calendar for missed annual appointments or anything of that nature and I came up short. I had done everything right, it just didn’t make sense.

Going into surgery was one of the scariest days of my life. I believed in my heart that I would be ok but I still saw the fear in everyone’s faces when they learned my story. But I’m nothing if not a fighter so I forged ahead, trying to remember to be brave like all those other women who’ve been through this battle too.

Luckily, on Thanksgiving that year after surgery #2, I was given the news that I was cancer-free. This means I would be closely monitored for the next year but essentially, I had a clean bill of health and wouldn’t need additional treatment.

As I stand here today, it’s certainly not lost on me how fortunate I am to have caught this early. And, when Bright Pink approached me to write this piece, I’m reminded of something I heard once that really stuck with me: It’s not luck that changes your fate. Everyone in this world will have situations that are “lucky.” It’s what you do with that luck that has the power to change the world.

For me, that’s why Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month is so important. I’m standing here today, not with any large life lesson or sign/symptom that I can share to save you or your loved ones from cancer. Instead, I’m joining Bright Pink and telling you to Assess Then Act.

Listen up to your instincts. If you think something isn’t right, call your doctor. Who knows, it just may save your life. It saved mine.

One of the most impactful ways to protect yourself from an ovarian cancer scare is to become ovarian self-aware. Knowing your risk factors, like family history, physical features, and daily habits is the first step.

This Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, we’re encouraging everyone to #AssessThenAct: take the Assess Your Risk quiz, and then create a preventative action plan to protect your health. Get started in just 5 minutes today.

Take the Assess Your Risk Quiz

MORGAN BELLOCK is a Public Relations professional living in the Chicago area. You can get in contact with Morgan at [email protected]

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