You + Your Doctor
Knowing your risk level is the first step, but you’ve got to act on the knowledge at hand in partnership with a medical professional you trust. When it comes to living healthfully, your doctor is your partner for developing a breast and ovarian health management strategy.
You’re off to a Great Start
Practicing prevention and early detection strategies are key parts of living proactively. It’s also important to find a medical professional that you trust. He or she should listen to your questions, pay attention to your concerns, and provide clear recommendations. Once you’ve “shopped around” and found a doctor you like, you should plan on seeing him or her annually for a well-woman exam.
The Well Woman Exam
These annual exams, which are covered in all insurance policies, should include a clinical breast exam that thoroughly covers all the breast tissue and typically takes several minutes. If your doctor offers this exam, say yes—and if your doctor doesn’t bring it up, make sure you do.
Your doctor will also perform a pelvic exam, during which he or she will actually feel your ovaries. Your doctor is looking for an enlargement or swelling in the pelvic region. Some pelvic masses can be a sign of ovarian cancer, but don’t be too alarmed- most women will develop a pelvic mass or ovarian cyst at some point in their lives and many go away on their own during the course of your menstrual cycle. You may also receive a pap smear, but it’s important to know that this only checks for cervical—not ovarian—cancer.
Pap smears check for cervical—not ovarian—cancer.
You should have your first mammogram by age 40, or sooner if you have a blood relative who was diagnosed with breast cancer before age 50. In those cases, you should schedule your first mammogram when you are 10 years younger than the age at which your relative was diagnosed.
Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor questions, have him or her explain the risk factors, and recommend a personalized prevention and screening plan. You can also find out how to reduce your risk through lifestyle changes, and what symptoms to monitor for between visits.