Breast and cervical cancer awareness

GEHA | October 15, 2019

women's health
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women. Mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat and before a lump is big enough to feel or has spread to other parts of your body.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a good time for women to review their breast and cervical screening schedules.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women. Mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat and before a lump is big enough to feel or has spread to other parts of your body.

Most breast cancers are found in women who are 50 years old or older, but breast cancer also affects younger women. About 10% of all new cases of breast cancer are found in women younger than 45 years old.

The American Cancer Society recommends women ages 40-49 should have a mammogram once a year. Those 50 or older should get them every two years. If you have a family history of breast cancer or other risk factors, talk with your doctor. You might need to have mammograms earlier or more often than these guidelines. GEHA also covers three-dimensional mammograms.

Breast cancer risk factors

  • Alcohol: Women who have 2 or 3 alcoholic drinks per day have a 20% higher risk of breast cancer.
  • Obesity: The risk of postmenopausal breast cancer is about 2 times higher in obese women.
  • Smoking: Research indicates that smoking may slightly increase breast cancer risk, especially long-term heavy smoking and among women who start smoking before their first pregnancy.
  • Physical activity: Women who do not get regular physical activity have a 10% to 25% higher risk of developing breast cancer.

Cervical cancer starts in cells that line the cervix, the lower part of your uterus. A cervical screening can often spot slowly changing cells before they cause trouble.

Two screening tests can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early. The Pap test looks for precancerous cell changes that might become cervical cancer if not treated. The HPV test looks for the human papillomavirus that causes most cases of cervical cancer.

When to get screenings:

  • Age 21 to 29: You should start getting the Pap test at age 21. If it is normal, your doctor may tell you to wait three years until your next Pap test.
  • Age 30 to 65: A Pap test only, HPV test only, or both Pap and HPV tests. If the HPV test is normal, your doctor may tell you to wait five years until your next HPV test.

Sources:

“October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: What You Need to Know and How You Can Help.” www.cancer.org, American Cancer Society, 1 October 2018.

“Breast Cancer Awareness.” www.cdc.gov, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 September 2019.

“What Should I Know About Screening?” www.cdc.gov, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7 August 2019.

“Cancer Screening Tests Every Woman Should Get.” www.webmd.com, WebMD LLC, 19 September 2018.