October is the month designated by health agencies and organizations to focus on two diseases affecting women – cervical cancer and breast cancer.
The message from all these agencies is the same. Although it is not known why one woman gets cancer and another does not, there are things that each woman can do to reduce her risk of these diseases. The first thing to do is to start living a healthy lifestyle. Equally important is taking charge of your health by ensuring that you have regular screening tests or have symptoms checked by your doctor. Many symptoms can be caused by problems that are much less serious than cancer. But, if cancer cannot be prevented, treatment is more likely to be successful if it is found early.
Rather than waiting for symptoms to become noticeable, women should make it a matter of importance to schedule regular screening tests both for cervical cancer and breast cancer. Screening is the early detection of cancer by checking for the disease before symptoms occur. Tests exist for early detection of cervical and breast cancer.
To screen for any changes that are occurring in cells of the cervix, the Agassiz Community Health Centre will be opening its doors on October 26 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for women to have a Pap screening test done. An appointment can be made by telephoning 604-703-2030 or by just walking in.
To screen for breast cancer, the Screening Mammography Program provides free mammograms (breast x-rays) to BC women ages 40-79, without a doctor’s referral. For women in British Columbia, breast cancer is the more frequently diagnosed type of cancer. By the end of this year, it is estimated 2,800 women will be diagnosed with the disease and 600 will die from it. Breast cancer can happen at any age but most cases occur in women over the age of 50, so aging is the highest risk factor for breast cancer.
Some women have a higher than average risk for breast cancer. If you have had breast cancer before, if you have a history of breast biopsies showing certain breast changes, such as an increase of abnormal cells which are not cancerous, or if you have a family history of breast cancer, you should be talking with your doctor about your risk and a personal plan of testing. You can also be aware of how your breasts normally look and feel so that you can notice any changes, even if you are getting tested regularly.
About 85 per cent of breast cancer types can be found through regular mammograms and early detection means more treatment options and a better chance for a cure. The visit itself takes about 15 minutes. The x-rays are read by an expert radiologist and you will be contacted if follow-up tests are needed. Results are sent in the mail to you and your doctor.
It is important to know that no screening test for cancer is 100 per cent accurate. For example, a screening test can sometimes show cancer when there isn’t or not show cancer when there is. But overall, regular mammograms save lives and the life you save may be your own. For an appointment to get a mammogram, call toll-free at 1-800-663-9203.
• Submitted by the Agassiz Community Health (with acknowledgement to the Canadian Cancer Society)