ImageThere is an old saying –real men don’t wear pink.  On Saturday, October 26, the manly members of the Ohio State football team and over 90,000 other real men and women wore pink in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, also raising awareness about programs at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center.  It’s not often you see a football team, much less an entire stadium, drenched in pink.  It was a very visual reminder of breast cancer awareness.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month may be coming to a close, but breast cancer won’t stop at the end of the month. I would imagine you know someone who has been affected by breast cancer. You may wonder what can you do besides wear pink? You can start by taking steps to detect the disease in its early stages and encourage others to do the same.  Yes, men DO wear pink and CAN encourage the women they love to get breast cancer screenings.

The importance of finding breast cancer early

The goal of screening exams for early breast cancer detection is to find cancers before they start to cause symptoms. Most doctors feel that early detection tests for breast cancer save thousands of lives each year, and that many more lives could be saved if even more women and their health care providers took advantage of these tests.

Women age 40 and older should have a mammogram every year and should continue to do so for as long as they are in good health.

  • Despite their limitations, mammograms are still a very effective and valuable tool for decreasing suffering and death from breast cancer.

Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam (CBE) as part of a periodic (regular) health exam by a health professional preferably every 3 years. Starting at age 40, women should have a CBE by a health professional every year.

  • CBE is done along with mammograms and offers a chance for women and their doctor or nurse to discuss changes in their breasts, early detection testing, and factors in the woman’s history that might make her more likely to have breast cancer.

Breast self-exam (BSE) is an option for women starting in their 20s. Women should report any breast changes to their health professional right away.

  • Sometimes, women are so concerned about “doing it right” that they become stressed over the technique. Doing BSE regularly is one way for women to know how their breasts normally look and feel and to notice any changes. The goal, with or without BSE, is to report any breast changes to a doctor or nurse right away.

There are additional tests to be considered if you are at high risk.   Talk with your doctor to determine if you are at high risk and if an MRI makes sense for you.

Valorie Bender CWPM

Source:  American Cancer Society (last updated 09/17/2013). Breast Cancer, Early Detection. Retrieved October 16, 2013, from http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/moreinformation/breastcancerearlydetection/breast-cancer-early-detection-importance-of-finding-early

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Jan Barker did everything right.  As described by her sister Laurie, she was a fitness freak.  Jan exercised regularly, didn’t smoke, rarely drank, and ate lots of fruits and vegetables. In October of 2007 Jan was diagnosed with colon cancer.  She died two months later, leaving behind a grieving husband, son, siblings, parents and many friends.  She was 55 years old.

Your first thought might be  – why bother to exercise and eat right – it didn’t help her.  Let me rephrase, Jan Barker did ALMOST everything right.  Jan never had a preventative screening in her life, no mammograms, pap smears, regular check-ups.  She didn’t have a colonoscopy even though she was over 50 and had a family history of colon cancer.

To often companies and individuals focus on the big two – exercise and eating right. Picture a three-legged stool, you need all three legs for it to work.  Preventative screenings are the first step in early intervention to prevent or control major consequences down the road.  Combined with exercise and a healthy diet, preventative screenings can go a long way to impede illness or disease.

After Jan was diagnosed with cancer her sister Laurie made an appointment for a colonoscopy. You might respond, of course that was the sensible thing to do.  But I think it was more than that.  Laurie did not hesitate as she was used to getting preventative screenings.  Why? Laurie worked for a company that offered preventative screenings at the work site.  For a long time Laurie worked for Progressive Insurance. While she worked there she took advantage of getting mammograms, pap smears, and her cholesterol checked all without leaving the building.  Because her employer made it so convenient, Laurie got in the habit of getting preventative screenings.

It would be great if all companies had workplace health clinics. Unfortunately it may not be feasible for smaller organizations to offer on site screenings.  But it is possible for all companies to encourage employees or offer incentives for employees to have annual exams and get preventable screenings.  Under the Affordable Care Act many preventative screenings are covered without having to pay a copayment.

A few hours after Jan passed away, Laurie received the results from her colonoscopy.  Three pre cancerous polyps had been removed. Laurie and her doctor will closely monitor the situation.  Laurie has redoubled her efforts to exercise regularly and eat right. Laurie IS doing everything right.  Chances are good Laurie will be around for many years to come, thanks in part to the habit of regular screenings her employer helped her to establish.

Valorie Bender