October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. During this month, we want to inform you of what happens in the very beginning of a breast journey: from regular tests, via early detection, to an accurate diagnosis.
The first step happens when nothing is going on – and for most women, the journey doesn’t go further than this. But whatever the outcome, it’s important that it’s done. If there is something in your breast, this is the best way to find it as early as possible:
Whichever your age or gender, it’s never a bad thing to ask your doctor information about breast screenings. For most younger people, a visit to the gynecologist will do. But from a certain age, mammograms are recommended. Many countries have recommendations, defined by professional organizations, about when and how frequently women should get tested. For example, the American Breast Cancer Society defines these guidelines.
Why go for regular tests? If breast cancer is detected early, doctors will have more options to fight it, treatment can be shorter, and the impact kept at a minimum. So ask your doctor about regular screenings, or research the internet whether your country has any recommendations.
(Note: as with any internet search for medical information, make sure you’re visiting official websites of professional or acknowledged organizations. With informal forums or tabloids, you run the risk of getting incomplete, irrelevant, or wrong information.)
“Breast cancer is sometimes found after symptoms appear, but many women with breast cancer have no symptoms. This is why regular breast cancer screening is so important.”1
Regular self-tests are often recommended as an additional way to discover breast cancer. Note that breast cancer is often not detected through noticeable symptoms, but through screening tests. And if there are symptoms, they are often already discovered through regular activities such as taking a shower.
With this we don’t mean that you should start disregarding your breasts completely. It’s good to know your body and to know how your breasts look and feel. However, self-testing can only be seen as an additional check on top of recommended screening. It’s by no means an alternative that rules out screening tests. Because in the beginning, breast cancer can most often not be seen or felt from the outside.
You might feel a bit nervous when you are getting tested or going for a breast screening. That’s perfectly normal. Know that this is a preventive measure. Most breasts are healthy, and even if something is found after a test, it isn’t necessarily breast cancer. But this is your body, so you should never hesitate to ask the questions you might have!