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Grease fans all over the world mourn the loss of beloved movie star Olivia Newton-John, who died August 8 of breast cancer. She was 73 years old. While her legacy will likely spur Grease movie nights for weeks to come, it has already reminded women of the importance of breast-cancer prevention.
The actress-singer, diagnosed in 1992, was open about her diagnosis. She committed much of her time to raising awareness, giving women a source of encouragement in their own health journeys.
“Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years, sharing her journey with breast cancer,” her husband wrote on her official Facebook page.
With one in eight women in the U.S. eventually developing invasive breast cancer, screenings should be top-of-mind.
Susan Brake, manager of Kettering Health Breast Centers, recommends a three-pronged approach: a monthly breast self-exam, the screening mammogram, and a clinical exam from your physician.
The easiest test available may also be the most effective. Monthly breast self-exams, done in the privacy of your home, are a simple and lifesaving test to feel for any changes in breast tissue. You’re the best judge for how you feel. Call for a follow-up with your doctor if you sense any changes.
According to the National Library of Medicine, women often detect breast cancer themselves, with 25% of women discovering it through self-examination.
Annual breast exams give you a baseline, helping you and your care provider see any potential changes over the years.
“Following the American College of Radiology guidelines, beginning at age 40, we recommend that women have a yearly mammogram, particularly if there is a family history of breast cancer or a genetic predisposition for the disease,” said Brake.
For women of higher risk, screening mammograms may begin at a younger age.
Talk to your doctor
Whether you’ve detected changes in your breasts, or you’re unsure of your risk, having a conversation with your healthcare provider is always worth it. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment give women the best chances of living beyond cancer.
Typically, during a clinical breast exam, your doctor will look for abnormalities and warning signs. But if you notice any of the following changes yourself, schedule an appointment:
- Changes in size or shape
- Dimpling or puckering of the skin
- Lump(s) or hard knots
- Itchy, scaly sores, or a rash on the nipple
- Nipple discharge
- New pain in one spot that does not go away
- Pulling in of your nipple
- Swelling, warmth, redness, or darkening.
Through this three-pronged approach—a monthly breast self-exam, a screening mammogram, and a clinical exam—women can stay well-prepared to detect (and treat) breast cancer.
“Together,” offers Brake, “these steps can help save lives.”