October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. About 1 in 8 U.S. women, and 1 in 1000 U.S. men will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their lifetime, and being proactive in this fight is crucial.

There are some guidelines, though. Breast self-exams are to be done monthly, and the best time to do them is about 10 days after the onset of your menstrual cycle.

The second guideline is to see your OB-GYN annually. Find a doctor that you’re comfortable with. A lot of people would rather examine themselves, but if you were to find an abnormality, you’ll need your doctor’s help in getting the proper tests done to determine what is wrong. Only your doctor can provide an order (prescription) for a breast sonogram or diagnostic mammogram.

The last guideline is to get a mammogram. This only applies to certain people: women over 40 (or mid to late thirties if breast cancer runs in the family because a woman’s risk of breast cancer approximately doubles if she has a first-degree relative who has had breast cancer), and patients with an abnormality in the breast. It is not generally recommended to get a mammogram before the age of 35. If a patient younger than 35 finds a lump, the first exam ordered will likely be a sonogram because it does not utilize radiation. Mammograms help detect cancer in its earliest stages when it is most easily treated. Doctors are so confident that they can treat stage I breast cancer that they give patients a near 100% five-year survival rate.

So there you have it, folks: monthly breast self-exams, annual doctor’s exam, and a mammogram. These three things are your best bet for catching breast cancer in its earliest stages. Trust your judgment when it comes to your body. Don’t ever feel like you are overreacting if you “think” you feel something in your breast. If it doesn’t feel right, have it checked out. The worst (or best) thing that can happen is that you get checked and it turns out to be nothing.

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