According to research by the American Cancer Society (ACS), approximately one in every eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and being proactive about breast health and breast health education can save lives.

Importance of breast cancer screenings

Except for some forms of skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, regardless of race or ethnicity. The ACS says, when breast cancer is detected early, and in the localized stage, the five-year relative survival rate is 99%. Early detection can also lead to a wider range of treatments and lower health care costs. Some early detection procedures include:

  • Mammograms: A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that can help doctors find cancer before a lump can even be felt. It is the most common and effective way to screen for breast cancer.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI):An MRI takes photos of breast tissue. Doctors may order this test along with a mammogram to detect cancer in women who are at a higher risk or have dense breasts.
  • Clinical and self-exams: Clinical and self-breast exams are an important part of early detection. During a clinical exam, a doctor checks for lumps and abnormal appearance. Women are encouraged to do a self-exam once a month, so they can recognize any abnormalities.

Who should get a breast cancer screening?

It is important women understand when they should start receiving breast screenings and are able to identify risk factors. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests considering the following factors to help determine whether to begin regular breast screenings:

  • Age: Annual mammograms are recommended for women beginning at the age of 40.
  • Genes: A woman may have a higher risk of breast cancer if there is history of breast cancer in the immediate family (parent, sibling or child), or if a woman inherits the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.
  • Race: According to the ACS, the rate of death due to breast cancer is about 40% higher in Black women than it is in white women. The disparity could come from less access to early screening tests among Black women, which means their cancer may be at a later stage when it’s diagnosed.
  • General health: Women who do not maintain a healthy lifestyle are more susceptible to a breast cancer.

“Breast cancer is an important health issue for women and having regular mammograms can detect breast cancers when they are small, with a good prognosis,” said Dr. Josette Gordon-Simet, medical director at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska (BCBSNE). “BCBSNE understands that early detection can save lives and works hard to make sure that all women have access to mammograms and take advantage of the benefits associated with preventative screenings.”

BCBSNE member Brenda Smith is a two-time breast cancer survivor who detected cancer through regular screenings and checkups. Read her story here.

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