By MEGHAN DAVIES
One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.
The District of Columbia has the highest breast cancer incidence rate and the second highest breast cancer mortality rate in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, 590 new cases of breast cancer will be detected in D.C. this year.
Lesbians have higher rates of breast cancer compared to women in general, mainly because they are less likely to see a doctor and get regular mammograms. And, unfortunately, there is NO data at all on breast cancer rates within the transgender community.
Breast exams, whether self-exams or clinical exams, should be a part of your health care routine. It’s a simple but important step to protect your health.
The first step for anyone, regardless of age, is to start doing breast self-exams monthly. Seventy percent of all breast cancers are found through self-exams.
Look for changes in your breasts while standing in front of a mirror. Check for any changes in size, shape or contour including dimpling, rash, redness or scaleness of the nipple or breast skin.
Then it’s time to do the actual exam. Breast self-exams can be performed while lying down on your back with a pillow under your shoulder or while bathing or showering using soapy hands.
Use the pads of the three middle fingers to feel your breasts. Press using light, medium and firm pressure in a circle without lifting your fingers off the skin. Use an up and down pattern to check your whole breast. Feel for changes in your breast above and below your collarbone and in your armpit.
Remember, it is important to know how your breasts usually look and feel. If you notice a change, let your medical provider know.
Mammograms every year for women aged 40-70, especially for high-risk women who have had a first-degree relative diagnosed with breast cancer, are encouraged in order to help detect breast cancer at the earliest and most treatable stages. Mammograms may detect cancer, but they do not prevent cancer. While the causes of breast cancer are still unknown, here are a few tips that may help reduce the risk of developing the disease:
• Don’t smoke, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy weight. Studies show that excess weight may increase the risk of breast cancer.
• Eat fresh fruits and vegetables daily. The fiber, antioxidants and other nutrients found in fresh fruits and vegetables may help reduce the risk of breast cancer and some other cancers.
• Reduce the negative stress in your life. Keeping a positive, relaxed outlook may be beneficial for the immune system, therefore reducing the risk of some diseases.
So there are lots of things we can all do to reduce our risk of breast cancer and to help us find it early if we have it.
But we know you may still have some questions about breast cancer or you may need some help getting into screenings. And that’s where we at Whitman-Walker can help.
For 14 years, Whitman-Walker’s Breast Health Initiative (BHI) has provided lesbians, bisexual women and the transgender community with education about breast self-exams and access to clinical breast exams and mammograms. While we can perform clinic breast exams on site, we partner with local hospitals and mammogram sites to give our patients access to this service.
BHI has historically served LBT patients, but is open to anyone who needs help. For more information, please call 202-745-6193.
In the U.S., one person is diagnosed with breast cancer every three minutes. One person dies of breast cancer every 14 minutes. Take breast cancer seriously. And take the steps needed to stay healthy. Whitman-Walker Health is ready to help.
Meghan Davies is director of Community Health at Whitman-Walker Health. Reach her via whitman-walker.org.