It is hard to go anywhere and not see a pink ribbon; it must be Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As a doctor, I of course believe that breast health is very important especially because it is the second leading cause of cancer death in our community. In recent years breast cancer is being diagnosed in women under 30 and with no family history. I want to tell you the story of a friend of mine who fought the breast cancer fight and tried to make a difference for others because it was too late for her.
My friend Kim and I went to medical school together we kept in touch via email and Facebook in recent years. When Kim was 10 years old she had been diagnosed with a Wilm’s tumor in her kidney she fought it and survived. 20 years later she felt a lump in her breast. She told her doctor and the insurance company refused to pay for the specialized testing that her physician needed to make her diagnosis. This delayed diagnosis for a period of time. Unfortunately, African American women are being diagnosed at younger ages with a very aggressive breast cancer. So time is very important to catch the cancer before it spreads. I wish this story had a happy ending, but my friend ended up with cancer in several organs and she lost her fight earlier this year. Kim fought a very hard fight, she was originally diagnosed in 2008 and she fought long and hard.
I shared that story to stress the importance of us as a community, to make sure that all young ladies in your life learn at a young age how to do self-breast exams. It is very important that once a month you check your breasts. A good time is a week after your menstrual cycle. If you are no longer menstruating just make it the same time every month. If you have a family history of breast cancer you should get a mammogram between age 30-40 years. If not, you can start at age 40 and have mammograms annually.
Your doctor should perform clinical breast exams as a part of your annual exam. It is also important that you advocate for your own health. My friend fought hard to get the test she needed. She told me that she wishes the genetic testing that Angelina Jolie had, was available to everyone, because she would have known that there was a high probability that she would get cancer in her reproductive organs as well. Men can also be diagnosed with breast cancer. It is important that they pay attention to any changes in their breast as well. If you are a male that has a history of breast cancer, you should do a self-breast exam once a month at the same time every month as well.
When you are in the shower, it’s the best place to check your breasts because the soap will help you to glide over your skin. Remember, put your arm behind your head and check the breast of that arm as well as the armpit area. Lying down on the bed is also a good place to check your breasts. You palpate your breasts in a circular motion after you have checked your entire breast. Please squeeze your nipple and make certain there is no discharge. If you find a discharge or any lumps that are not normal to your anatomy please immediately call the doctor so they can order more diagnostic test to diagnose what you have found.
How We Can Help
The bottom line is, we are dying by alarming numbers due to breast cancer. We need to remind our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, girlfriends and wives to please get their mammograms and Save the TaTas.
BMWK: Do you know anyone who experienced this disease? How did you deal with it?