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    Breast Cancer – What Can We Do?

    by Ngozi Osuagwu, MD | October 3rd, 2021

    Breast Cancer – What Can We Do?

    February 16, 2020, my cousin passed away due to complications related to breast cancer. She was 51 years old. She lived in Nigeria so I did not get to see her as often as I would like. I have beautiful memories of us as children playing. I was fortunate to spend a day with her while visiting New York two years before her passing. She was visiting from Nigeria. By that time, the cancer had already spread to the rest of her body.  We spent that day visiting other family members that lived in New York. We talked, we cried, we laughed and at times we just stared at each other without speaking. Could we have found her ailment earlier? What if she had gotten a mammogram? What if there was adequate follow up? Was something missed during her physicals? There were too many questions. There was no need to look back. Her smile was infectious. She stayed optimistic during the course of her treatment and until the end.  I miss her.

    According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide, claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands of women each year and affecting countries at all levels of modernization1. The good news is that the death rates from breast cancer have been declining since about 1990, in part due to better screening and early detection, increased awareness, and continually improving treatment options1.

    Here are some facts1:

    • 1 in 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime
    • Breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, except for skin cancers. It is estimated that in 2021, approximately 30% of all new women cancer diagnoses will be breast cancer.
    • There are over 3.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.
    • On average, every 2 minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States.
    • Although rare, men get breast cancer too.

    October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Let us use this month to remind ourselves and those that we love on ways that we can decrease our risks of developing breast cancer as well as making sure if diagnosed, the cancer is found early. 

    WHAT CAN ALL WOMEN DO TO LOWER THEIR RISK OF BREAST CANCER?

    1. MAINTAIN A HEALTHY WEIGHT – Obesity increases your risk of breast cancer when you become menopausal. Even a little bit of weight loss helps to decrease your risk.
    2. EXERCISE – There is evidence to show that women who get regular physical activity have a lower risk of breast cancer compared with women that do not exercise.
    3. LIMIT ALCOHOL – Drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer. If you have to drink then limit yourself to no more than 1 drink per day.
    4. AVOID TOBACCO – QUIT smoking.
    5. BE AWARE OF CHANGES IN YOUR BODY – BREAST SELF-AWARENESS – If you feel a lump in your breast, if you notice any bloody nipple discharge or a milky discharge unrelated to breastfeeding and/or breast pain unrelated to your menstrual cycle – SCHEDULE AN APPOINTMENT TO SEE YOUR DOCTOR – this is regardless of your age and regardless of whether you had a normal mammogram or recent exam by your doctor. DO NOT IGNORE THESE ABNORMAL SYMPTOMS.
    6. KNOW YOUR FAMILY HISTORY – If you have a strong family history of breast cancer, ask your doctor for a referral to a genetic counselor. We know that some women have the gene mutation that puts them at risk for breast cancer. You might want to know if you have the mutation so that you can be informed of what to do to decrease your risks of breast cancer. This may include taking certain medications or deciding to have surgery on your breast before it becomes cancer.
    7. BREASTFEED IF YOU HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY – Breastfeeding can decrease your risk of getting breast cancer. If you or if you have friends that have recently had babies, encourage them to breastfeed.
    8. GET YOUR SCREENING MAMMOGRAM – For most women this will be yearly starting at age 40, however, if you are in a high risk category, it might be younger. If you are younger, a breast ultrasound may be ordered as well because younger women have dense breasts. If you have any symptoms like a lump or pain, you should get a diagnostic mammogram (digital) or a digital breast tomosynthesis. This is different from a screening mammogram.
    9. MAKE SURE THAT YOU FOLLOW UP ON YOUR RESULTS – You should know your result within one week of a mammogram. If you do not get your result in a timely manner, call your doctor to get your result. If the result is abnormal, follow up with your doctor immediately, you might need additional testing or may be referred to a breast specialist.
    10. WHAT YOU EAT MAKES A DIFFERENCE – More and more research is coming out on the importance of diet in decreasing our risk of developing cancer in general. Eat whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans. Limit ‘fast foods”. Limit red and processed meats. Limit sugar sweetened drinks.

    For more information on breast cancer, visit the National Breast Cancer Foundation,  American Cancer Society, or Prevent Cancer Foundation.

    To get free or low cost mammograms, visit the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.

    1National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc.

    Prevent Cancer Foundation (image used for the blog)

    4 Responses to “Breast Cancer – What Can We Do?”

    1. Linda K. Jackson says:

      I’m so sorry about your cousin. Thank you so much for the recommendations, which I was unaware of. I’ve also read that, due to denser breast tissue, black women often die more often from breast cancer, because by the time it’s found, it has grown to such a significant stage (3 or 4), compared to being found at an earlier stage. (Ironically, and fortunately, I’ve followed all of the recommendations that apply to me).

      • Ngozi Osuagwu, MD says:

        You are correct, dense tissue can sometimes make it hard to interpret the mammogram. Radiologists are aware of a mammogram’s limitation when a patient has dense breasts and will make comments on the mammogram report. They might even suggest that one gets a digital breast tomosynthesis which takes three-dimensional images of the breast. In some facilities, digital breast tomosynthesis has replaced regular mammograms. Thank you for your feedback.

    2. Thanks for the reminder! It can never be too much!

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