Healthy Focus

The Latest Breast Cancer Screening Recommendations

Sometimes it seems as if there’s a new guideline every month about how to reduce breast cancer risk. But one of the best ways to protect your breast health is a strategy you already know: Schedule an annual mammogram.

While the threat of COVID-19 may make you re-consider keeping your scheduled mammogram appointment, it’s important to keep up with your recommended screenings and vaccines. That’s because research shows that women who have regular mammograms are more likely to find early cancers, to need less aggressive treatment and to find a cure than women who don’t have regular mammograms.

HCMC’S Women’s Center at the Diagnostic Center is offering a special gift to patients during the month of October and November. To schedule a mammogram, call (731) 644-8486.

Timeline Guidelines

Although the American Cancer Society rolled back its recommended screening age from 50 to 45, some women might consider an even earlier start date.

Experts agree that beginning at age 40, women should have a discussion with their doctor to decide when mammograms are right for them. At age 55, women should have mammograms every other year – though women who want to keep having yearly mammograms should be able to do so. Regular mammograms should continue for as long as a woman is in good health.

Factoring in Risk

The American Cancer Society guidelines are for women at average risk for breast cancer. Women at high risk – because of family history, a breast condition, or another reason – need to begin screening earlier and/or more often. It’s important to talk to your doctor to discuss what’s best for you.

You are considered to be at average risk for breast cancer unless you have one or more risk factors. The challenge is that many of these contributing factors can’t be controlled. Some lifestyle decisions such as smoking have correlative effects to breast cancer risk–meaning they are seen more frequently in breast cancer cases.

Ultimately, the best way to gauge your breast cancer risk is to consult your primary care physician, who can assess your risk factors and overall health and then recommend appropriate screening.

Getting the Most from Your Screenings

Newer breast imaging technology, such as 3D mammography, has made routine mammograms even more patient-friendly by providing greater first-time accuracy for test results. 3D technology looks at more images from different angles than traditional mammography, which can increase detection rates and decrease the number of false positives.

Your annual breast cancer screening is also an ideal time to ask your doctor about testing for other medical conditions, including those that pose a heightened risk to women, such as ovarian cancer. Other general health guidelines include blood tests for high cholesterol and diabetes, and screening for colon cancer.

Should You Still Do Breast Self-Exams?

If you’ve always had good breast cancer screening results, you might wonder whether monthly self-exams could take the place of a mammogram some years. But physicians caution against putting too much stock in self-exams as a screening tool.

There isn’t much evidence of the effectiveness of women conducting their own breast exams, but you should be aware of what their breasts normally feel like so you can tell if there’s an abnormality. Your doctor may recommend doing self-checks throughout the year, but only in association with physician care.

Top Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

  • Being female
  • Age 50 or older
  • Having changes in certain breast cancer genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2)
  • Long-term use of hormone replacement therapy
  • Personal history of breast cancer or non-cancerous breast diseases
  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Being overweight or obese after menopause
  • Never giving birth or having your first child after age 30
  • Treatment with radiation therapy to the breast/chest
  • Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES)
  • Having dense breasts
  • Drinking alcohol

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Cancer Society

To schedule an appointment with a physician to learn when a mammogram is best for you, call the Paris Women’s Center at (731) 644-8225.

Should You Take a Sleep Aid?

If you’re tossing and turning at night, you’re not alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 50 to 70 million American adults have a sleep disorder. And an eye-opening survey by the National Sleep Foundation found that women report more insomnia and sleep disturbances than men.

Reaching for a sleeping pill—sold over the counter or by prescription—is one solution, but it’s not always the best remedy. Here’s a look at when to consider medication for better shut-eye.

The Case for Medication

If you have trouble sleeping, some experts believe that medication may help, but only occasionally and for a short period of time.

But there’s no one size fits all when it comes to sleeping aids. While some sleep medication helps you fall asleep, others work on both falling asleep and staying asleep.

Rather than heading straight to an over-the-counter remedy, choosing the best medication should involve a conversation with your primary care physician and maybe even a sleep specialist to discuss your symptoms. He or she can help rule out an underlying medical condition, such as sleep apnea, a common yet serious sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing momentarily during sleep.

At the doctor’s visit, you’ll need to describe your specific problem. It is falling asleep or staying asleep? Is it early morning awakening? Is it that you think you slept, but you wake up feeling exhausted?

If falling asleep is the issue, your healthcare provider may recommend melatonin, a natural hormone made by your pineal gland to induce sleepiness (usually around 9 p.m.), and sold as an over-the-counter supplement. If you have trouble staying asleep, the remedy may be doxylamine succinate (Unisom) or diphenhydramine (Benadryl), which works by blocking histamine, a brain neurotransmitter, to help you fall and stay asleep.

Sleep Rx

Prescription medication can also be helpful, such as zolpidem (Ambien) and eszopiclone (Lunesta), which induce sleep by causing the brain to release more gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a sleep-inducing chemical. However, both drugs have the potential to impair memory and lead to dementia with long-term use.

Another prescription medication, doxepin (Silenor), has no addiction potential. Like non-prescription diphenhydramine, it works on the brain’s histamine receptors to help you stay asleep.

A newer prescription sleep aid, suvorexant (Belsomra), works by blocking orexin, a brain chemical that causes alertness. It turns off the brain’s alertness signals and may be effective for people who say they can’t fall asleep because their brain is so activated.

Be aware that any sleep medication has side effects and may even cause rebound insomnia: When you stop the drug, the insomnia can be worse than when you started. Overall, it is recommended to only use sleep medication for as short a time as possible, as advised by your doctor.

Sleep Tweaks

Before heading to the doctor about your sleep problem, the experts recommend that you do a little homework.

It’s important to analyze your life, your schedule, and your priorities. There may be some simple natural fixes that will help with your sleep and avoid the need for medication.

Try these strategies to help say goodnight to insomnia:

Darken your bedroom. Light is alerting. Invest in room-darkening shades that block moonlight and early morning sun. If you get up during the night, use a nightlight to find the way rather than turning on a bright light.

Wear yourself out. Exercise helps you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. If you can’t get to the gym, take a 10-minute walk at lunch.

Cut back on caffeine. It’s a sleep stealer. If sleep is a problem, try avoiding caffeine after lunch.

Power down. The light from your computer and smartphone can interfere with your brain’s melatonin production. At least an hour before bed, turn off your devices. Do something relaxing, such as taking a bath, having a cup of chamomile tea or coloring in an adult coloring book.

Why Sleep Matters

Sleep is the ultimate fatigue fighter—and it’s also the cornerstone of your health and wellbeing.

Experts agree that sleep is as important as eating right and exercising regularly.

Regularly missing out on nightly rest, in fact, can increase your risk of chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and even cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A lack of sleep can also worsen the pain of arthritis and fibromyalgia, and put you at increased risk for anxiety and depression.

If you practice good sleep hygiene habits and are still unable to sleep, or feel that you may suffer from a sleep disorder, make an appointment with your primary care provider or call the HCMC Sleep Disorders Center at (731) 644-8486.