By Liz Kwo, MD, MBA, MPH - Chief Medical Officer, Everly Health. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
Every two minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States. 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer in their lifetime. This year, an estimated 43,000 women will lose their battle with breast cancer. These are statistics worth paying attention to. All women are at risk of getting breast cancer. Second to skin cancer, it is the most common cancer in women in the United States.
Let me take you back to Friday, September 9, 2022. It was the phone call I had been waiting for all week until I heard the words, “It is cancer.” The caller on the other line was my sister, my best friend. I felt like someone had knocked the breath out of me; however, it was nothing in comparison to how I imagined she felt. As a Registered Nurse, I knew there was a journey ahead of her but I also knew she had caught it early. Just a week before, she had felt an unusual lump in her breast while doing a self breast-exam. With this early detection, I knew the prognosis was most likely good. I share this with you because there are so many of you who have been through, are going through, or will go through this same scenario. You may find yourself on the receiving end of a breast cancer diagnosis. You may be the one watching a loved one being told they have breast cancer.
We often associate October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month and for a good cause. Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the breast. Early detection and treatment has been proven to provide better outcomes. Early detection includes doing monthly breast self-exams, and scheduling regular clinical breast exams and mammograms. I recently had the chance to sit down with our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Liz Kwo. Dr. Kwo relates with so many women as her mother and grandmother have both had their own journey with breast cancer. I asked Dr. Kwo what advice she would give to women about breast cancer. “I would tell all women exactly what I tell my own patients, doing monthly self breast exams and yearly mammogram screenings are just as important as having a regular annual checkup with your physician. Women should also become familiar with their breasts and if they recognize changes or are unsure about what they see or feel, schedule an appointment with their physician.”
According to the CDC, if you have a strong family history of breast cancer or inherited changes in your BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, you may have a higher risk of getting breast cancer; though, you should keep in mind that about 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer. Normally, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes protect you from getting certain cancers. But some mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes prevent them from working properly, so that if you inherit one of these mutations, you are more likely to get breast, ovarian, and other cancers. However, not everyone who inherits a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation will get breast or ovarian cancer.
Mammograms are recommended for most women starting at the age of 40; however, this number can vary depending on family history or other factors. Breast cancer can strike at any age and this is why it is so important to do monthly breast self-exams. “I would encourage women and men to learn their family history and discuss it with their physician. If there is a family history, ask your physician about what screenings are right for you and how often you should screen," Kwo said. Mammograms are quick and usually not as painful as you think. Screening mammograms usually involve two or more x-ray images of each breast. The x-ray images often make it possible to detect tumors that can not be easily felt. This detection allows doctors to diagnose breast cancer early, when it’s easiest to treat.
Here at Everly Health, we encourage you to take a moment and schedule your mammogram if you haven’t already. We also encourage you to talk to your doctor about any questions you may have about breast cancer.