The very thought of breast cancer is a terrifying thing. A frustrating thing. A confusing thing. A depressing thing. Which is one of the many reasons why some women avoid being screened regularly.
But the problem with this is that, if there is a problem, and it’s not diagnosed until it’s at an advanced stage (which is exactly what happens with a lot of black women), it can tie a doctor’s hands in terms of fighting the cancer and saving your life.
So, if you think about it, one of the most positive things you can do is to get screened!
But, you’re probably wondering when you should get screened, as well as how you can prepare yourself as best as possible to make the process as smooth as possible.
Breast Screening: Your Age Matters
According to the American Cancer Society, age is one factor that helps determine when, and how often, you should be screened:
• Women in their 20s and 30s should get clinical breast exams at least once every three years
• Women in their 40s and above should get clinical breast exams at least once a year
• Women in their 40s and older should get a mammogram once a year
But not all women are the same when it comes to breast cancer. Some women with special considerations may need to start their screenings earlier or more often than others, such as women with:
• A previous breast cancer diagnosis
• Benign conditions found on breast biopsies
• Dense breasts
• A strong family history of young-onset breast or ovarian cancer in either a maternal or paternal first-degree relative (i.e. a parent, a sibling or a child)
• A history of prior chest wall radiation before age 30 for Hodgkin’s disease
If any of these apply to you, talk to your doctor about the breast screening plan that is right for you.
The Best Ways To Prepare For Your Screening Appointment
There are certain steps you can take to help ensure that your appointment is not only successful, but that you walk away understanding what you need to do next.
According to Mayo Clinic, one of the best ways to have a more seamless screening procedure is to write down any information that you think will be helpful for your doctor and the other medical technicians who’ll be providing your care:
• Write down any symptoms you’re experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated.
• Write down key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes.
• Write down your family history of cancer, including types of cancer, the age at diagnosis, whether each person survived, and how they are related to you.
• Make a list of all medications, vitamins or supplements that you’re taking.
• Keep all of your records that relate to prior breast screenings. Organize your records in a binder or folder that you can take to your appointments.
• Write down questions to ask your doctor.
MUST READ: Mammogram Guidelines: What’s Changed?
Your time with your doctor and/or medical technicians is important, so preparing a list of questions will help make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out.
Some of those questions might be:
• What tests do I need to have?
• Will this hurt?
• How soon will the results be available?
• What if the results show I have cancer? What do I do next?
• Do I need any additional tests?
• Why are these the most appropriate tests for me?
• When do I need to make another appointment?
• Can I have a copy for my records?
• Does my insurance plan cover the tests and treatment you’re recommending?
• Is there anything additional that I can do to help keep my breasts healthy?
• Am I performing self-exams correctly?
• Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can take with me? What websites or books do you recommend?
In addition to the questions that you’ve prepared to ask your doctor, don’t hesitate to ask additional questions that may pop into your head during your appointment.
MUST WATCH: Mayo Clinic Breast Cancer Education Tool
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions as well. Being ready to answer them fully and honestly is extremely important to getting the best care possible. Your doctor may ask:
• Do you have a family history of breast cancer?
• How old were you when you first started menstruating?
• Do you do monthly breast checks?
• How do your breasts feel? Are you experiencing any symptoms?
Many breast screening clinics are designed to help calm patients and help them feel more at ease. But Mayo Clinic suggest that there are also things you can do to further elevate your own comfort level:
Dress comfortably. Wear comfortable pants, such as yoga pants. Generally, you’ll be asked to remove your shirt and bra and wear a gown as a top.
Bring as few valuables as possible. More than likely, you’ll be asked to store your belongings in a locker in a dressing area.
Bring a book. You may have a short wait time before your screening, or you may have more than one type of test. Having something on hand to help ease your nerves and distract you can be very helpful.
Bring a relative or friend. Sometimes it can be difficult to absorb all the information provided during an appointment. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot. In addition, it can simply be a great comfort to have a supportive shoulder to lean on.
To learn more about breast cancer, visit Mayo Clinic at: www.mayoclinic.org