This article was last updated on Oct. 24, 2022.
October may be known for the Halloween treats, haunted houses and spooky costumes — but it’s also known for something so much bigger: Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
And, it's for good reason. Looking at just a few statistics about breast cancer External Site can be shocking.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States. In 2018, more than 40,000 women in the U.S. are expected to die from breast cancer. African American women are more likely to die of breast cancer than any other ethnic group. About 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer in her lifetime.
Risk factors for breast cancer
If you have one or more breast cancer risk factors External Site, you might be more likely to develop it. But, just because you have some risk factors, doesn't necessarily mean you will develop breast cancer.
A few risk factors of breast cancer include: being female, getting older, and having a history of breast conditions.
Having a personal or family history of breast cancer is also a risk factor. However, 85 percent of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history.
Breast cancer screenings
New research suggests that cancer is on the rise External Site among adults under the age of 50. Early onset cases of several cancers, including breast cancer, are among those that have risen worldwide since about 1990. Experts suspect that our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and prevalence of processed food in our diet could be the culprit.
That is why the American Cancer Society External Site recommends that women between ages 40 and 44 with an average risk of breast cancer — most women — have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year. Women 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year. It may be a good idea to talk about your risk factors with your personal doctor before age 40, just in case you need to get screened early.
Preventive mammograms are typically covered at 100 percent by your Wellmark health insurance plan. Just be sure to use an in-network provider and log in to myWellmark® Opens new window to check your benefits before making the appointment. At age 55, you may be able to limit preventive mammograms to every other year. They should continue for as long as you're in good health.
Need to check your preventive care benefits or find a doctor?
Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield members can keep tabs on their coverage, see what benefits they've used, find an in-network doctor, and much more. It's all available in myWellmark®, your secure, member portal. Don’t have an account? Register to access today.
If you have questions about mammogram screenings, talk to your personal doctor.
Signs and symptoms of breast cancer
Mammograms can detect tumors before they can be felt, so screening is key to early detection. However, it's important for women to be aware of the look and feel of their breasts, so they can talk to their doctor about any changes.
Some other signs and symptoms of breast cancer you should know, are:
- A breast lump or thickening that feels different from the surrounding tissue
- Change in the size, shape or appearance of a breast
- Changes to the skin over the breast, such as dimpling
- A newly inverted nipple
- Peeling, scaling, crusting or flaking of the pigmented area of skin surrounding the nipple (areola) or breast skin
- Redness or pitting of the skin over your breast, like the skin of an orange
Equity in breast cancer care
While white women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer in their lifetime, Black women are more likely to develop External Site a more aggressive and more advanced-stage breast cancer that is diagnosed at a young age. Black women are also more likely to die from breast cancer than any other ethnic group. In fact, Black women have the lowest 5-year survival rate External Site compared to all other racial and ethnic groups for every stage and every subtype of breast cancer.
This variation in outcomes can be attributed to less access to mammography and lower quality medical care, as well as other social determinants of health, such as access to healthy, non-processed food.
Lifestyle changes can help prevent breast cancer
The American Cancer Society recommends lifestyle changes associated with more active lifestyles, lower alcohol consumption and adhering to the recommended mammogram schedule as some of the best ways to help prevent breast cancer.
Your personal doctor can help schedule screenings and review your risk factors.
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