Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Today’s column is about boobs. Bet that got your attention.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and you’re probably sick of hearing about it. Unless you have it. (One out of eight women will develop breast cancer.) Or unless you love someone who’s fighting it. Or have a friend who has a friend who has it…. Breast cancer affects us all.
Let’s look at the numbers: The National Cancer Institute says 12.4 percent of women born in the United States today will develop breast cancer eventually. That means 87 percent won’t, which is good news but not much comfort if you’re the one drawing the short straw.
I try to stay healthy by eating right, exercising like a demon, drinking moderately, not smoking and getting a head-to-toe annual checkup. All of which makes me feel smug, but has no bearing on whether or not I develop breast cancer. The fact that nobody in my family has ever had it? Also means nothing.
That’s the thing: Study after study shows that most women who develop breast cancer have few to no risk factors. I once met a vegan marathoner with no family history. She was diagnosed at age 33. Fifteen years later, it’s still hard for me to believe. Can you imagine how she felt? The last I heard she was doing fine after a lumpectomy and radiation.
But if you like to know the odds, as I do, here are the basics: Age (most women diagnosed are over 50) and obesity are believed to be factors, as are tobacco and alcohol use. White women are more likely to develop breast cancer, but black women more frequently die from it. Both black and Hispanic women are more often diagnosed with larger tumors and later-stage cancer than white women.
The bottom line is: If you have boobs, they can get sick. That includes men, because they have breast tissue too, as we all know (or should) by now.
Here’s what you can do, besides wear pink ribbons and donate to breast cancer research: Practice monthly self-exams and get a mammogram every year. The first one is called a baseline mammogram, to which all subsequent mammograms will be compared. Public health organizations argue about whether your first should be at 40 or 50, but I went with 40.
Practice breast self-exams every month, as well. Heck, have fun with it! Years ago a new female ob/gyn asked me, “Do you massage your breasts regularly to check for lumps?”
“No,” I drawled. “I do it because it feels good.”
We shared a big, raucous laugh.
Some women worry that mammograms are painful. I cannot overstate how wrong this is. After 12 of them I’m telling you, it hurts more to push my cuticles back. IT IS NOT PAINFUL.
I go to Trident Breast Care Center, and they’ve got a system that rocks. All you do is call and make an appointment, show up, take off your bra, stand at a machine (with a very nice tech explaining each step of the process), put your bra back on and leave. My last appointment lasted exactly 24 minutes. Boom!
Last but not least, I regret to inform you that I somehow missed “Free the Ta-tas! No Bra Day” on Oct. 13. That’s when women were supposed to go bra-free in solidarity, to raise awareness of breast cancer.
I don’t know anyone who actually did, and it’s a good thing I didn’t. The last time I left the house without a bra, the dog went blind.
Julie R. Smith, who’s all about the mammogram, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.