Getting diagnosed with breast cancer—any cancer—is scary. It’s hard to avoid thoughts of ‘what if,’ especially when there is a lag between diagnostic appointments or procedures. Yet breast cancer is survivable for many, and getting regular check ups increases those odds tremendously. Early detection often means early stage—and early stage means treatable.

“I like to reassure my patients with this statistic: 80% of breast cancer diagnoses are detected in the early stages, giving these women a 97% five-year survival rate,” said a RN for Women’s Services at TMH.

Don’t skip a mammogram because of fear

It’s easy to put off getting a mammogram. They can be uncomfortable, but the mammography services at TMH make it less so. Machines provide more clear, precise imagery and will have 3D capabilities in the future. The state-of-the-art Siemens Digital Mammography Machine also exposes women to less radiation.

Sometimes mammograms spark a second look—likely a diagnostic mammogram, ultrasound or a biopsy—if a mass of any kind is found. Knowing that second looks usually result in a non-cancer outcome helps.

“While it can be stressful to be called back for a diagnostic mammogram, the follow-up need for a biopsy is usually low—and needing a biopsy doesn’t necessarily mean cancer, either,” the RN said.

If you have a family history or personal concern, ask your doctor if it’s wise to start getting mammograms before age 50 and more frequently than every other year as is now recommended.

Exercise to reduce risk

We all have heard the great benefits of exercise— lowered cholesterol, better sleep, less food cravings and lighter moods. Add reduced risk of certain cancers, including breast cancer, to that list. According to the National Cancer Institute, the relationship between breast cancer incidence and exercise has been extensively studied, with most results showing that women who are physically active have a lower risk of breast cancer.

To get the most protection, studies suggest exercising 30 to 60 minutes a day at moderate or high intensity. How does it work? Scientists think that exercise might lower hormone levels, and therefore lower risk of hormone-based breast cancers. It also improves immunity and lowers insulin levels, which could also play in to lessen cancer risk.