When should I start thinking about my breast health?


The number of women diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime in the U.S. has increased steadily from 10 percent in the 1970s to 12.4 percent today, according to the National Cancer Institute. A lifetime is a long time, though; when should women start considering their breast health?

When asked if she had thought much about her breast health, Eva Schneiderman ’20 responded “No. But I should, shouldn’t I?”

For many Mount Holyoke students, breast health isn’t really on the radar. Young people don’t see breast health as an immediate concern. Schneiderman even commented on the lack of concern that exists within younger people. “I always thought it was a 40s and up thing,” she said, echoing the common sentiment that breast cancer can’t affect people until they’re older.

However, according to the Planned Parenthood Breast Health initiative, women between the ages of 20 and 40 should get clinical breast exams every one to three years and women older than 40 should get yearly clinical breast exams. Even though women over the age of 40 are significantly more likely to develop breast cancer, the Young Survival Coalition attests that “each year, approximately 70 thousand men and women of ages 15 to 39 are diagnosed with cancer in the U.S.” The risk is much lower than that for older women and men, but it’s still a possibility.

The key to fighting breast cancer is early detection: self exams and clinical exams at the rates suggested according to age seriously increase the chance of identifying and overcoming the disease if it occurs. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation there are more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. today, a number possible because of the development of detection and treatment systems, as well as growth in awareness.

Planned Parenthood offers breast exams, as do gynecologists. For Mount Holyoke students, the closest clinic is in Springfield (3550 Main Street, Suite 201, Springfield, MA 01107.) Call 800-258-4448 to make an appointment or with any questions.