Improving their health is at or near the top of most people’s lists of New Year’s resolutions. We vow to exercise more, eat or drink less, or all of the above.
One of the best things we can do for ourselves as women is to get a mammogram. In spite of the recent confusion about when we should start doing this, mammograms are the only way we’re going to catch breast cancer at its earliest stage.
I’m a case in point. I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ, DCIS, which is classified as stage 0. Because DCIS is confined to the milk ducts, it was too early to produce a lump I would have been able to feel, and it was caught through a mammogram.
When I started researching DCIS, I read somewhere that 80 percent of all cases are discovered through mammograms. My first oncology consult told me it’s more like 90 percent.
DCIS is a good news-bad news diagnosis. The good news is it hasn’t become invasive yet. The bad news is that it can. Given my specific circumstances, my first oncology consult estimated my risk of getting invasive cancer at 50 percent.
Because I was able to treat the cancer at such an early stage, I was virtually guaranteed a cure through a mastectomy. I’m cancer-free, although I’m taking Tamoxifen to prevent it from showing up in the other breast. I’m very thankful that my breast cancer was caught before it became invasive and required chemotherapy.
Getting a mastectomy for DCIS is a highly personal decision that you need to discuss with your doctor. I know women who have opted for breast-conserving surgery followed by radiation. I know others who chose the bilateral mastectomy as a precaution. I’ve talked about this a lot so bear with me if you’ve heard it before, but you need to make the choice that’s best for you.
While I called out mammograms, other screenings are equally important. I know the importance of colonoscopies first hand, having lost my mom to colon cancer. My first colonoscopy discovered polyps that could have turned cancerous. Because of that and my family history, I’m on a five-year colonoscopy schedule (so far, anyway). If you sail through your first one and don’t have a family history, you can get by with once a decade.
So as you think of your health resolutions for the new year, talk to your doctor about health screenings that make sense for you.
Here’s wishing you a healthy and happy 2011.