Home > October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month -Expert advice from Dr. Rhonda M. Johnson

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month 
Expert advice from Dr. Rhonda M. Johnson
Chances are you know someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in African-American women.
The good news is that more African-American women diagnosed with breast cancer are survivors five years after diagnosis. The bad news is that African American women often get diagnosed later when cancer has spread and is more difficult to treat.
There is power in information! Know your family history, get the facts, learn how to do a breast self exam and talk to your health care provider about screening and treatment options.
Know your family history and risk factors
Risk factors are anything that can increase your chances of getting a disease. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get the disease. Some risks can be changed, some cannot. Here are some of the known risks:
  • The biggest risk for breast cancer is simply being a woman. Yes, men can get breast cancer, but it is 100 times more common in women.
  • Family history of breast cancer in a relative increases your risk, especially if that relative is your mother or sister.
  • Getting older – your risk increases as you get older.
  • Lifestyle risks: Being overweight or obese has been found to increase breast cancer risk, especially for women after menopause. Physical inactivity and high alcohol use also increases your risk. 
  • Recent oral contraceptive use (birth control pills) can slightly increase your breast cancer risk. This risk seems to go away once the pills are stopped. Women who stopped taking birth control pills more than 10 years ago do not appear to have any increased risk of breast cancer. Talk to your health care provider about using the pill if you are concerned about breast cancer and are planning to use this form of birth control.
Knowledge is the key
Let’s face it – we can’t always control our risk factors. Here are a few tips that you can do.
  •  Get your mammogram. Mammograms are X-ray pictures of the breast that can find breast cancer early. Screening mammograms are used to check for breast cancer in women who have no symptoms of the disease. If you are age 40 or older, you should have screening mammograms every one to two years. Women who have multiple risk factors should talk with their health care provider.
  •  Talk with your doctor, family and friends. Talk with your doctor about your family history. Learn how to perform self exams. Share information with other women in your life. Encourage each other to get a mammogram.
  •  Don't ignore symptoms. If you notice any changes in your breasts, see your health care professional. Most changes are not breast cancer, but they should always be checked.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables daily. Exercise regularly and make physical activity a part of your everyday life. If you are concerned about your alcohol consumption, talk with your health care professional about reducing your intake.
In honor of breast cancer awareness month, I encourage you to understand your risks, make your health a priority and inspire the women in your life to do the same. If you are a Highmark member, log in to the member website to learn more about breast cancer prevention. www.highmarkbcbs.com. Or, visit the National Cancer Institute website at www.cancer.gov (search term: breast) or call 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
Dr. Rhonda M. Johnson is the medical director of health equity and quality services at Highmark Inc. She leads Highmark’s efforts to reduce racial and ethnic health care disparities among Highmark members through clinical interventions and improvements in health literacy, language access and health-plan cultural competency.
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