HELENA — In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, the Montana VA Health Care System (MTVAHCS) went all out in pink in October to raise awareness and encourage screenings.
On Friday nurses, doctors, technicians and administration donned their sharpest shades of salmon to provide encouragement to those battling the disease.
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers, and manageable if caught early. The overall five-year survival rate from breast cancer is nearly 90 percent. If the cancer is caught while it is still located only in the breast, the survival rate increases to nearly 99 percent.
While October may be the designated breast cancer awareness month, MTVAHCS says people should be thinking about it year round.
“Really what we encourage is on a monthly basis for women to do some type of self exame,” Women Veteran Program Manager Susan Calentine said. “They’re the first one to be able to catch if something’s not quite right, and honestly it’s not just women, it’s men as well.”
Routine screenings can often find breast cancer early and make treatment more successful.
MTVAHCS shares these screening tips for women age 40 and up:
- Women who have a family history of breast cancer should speak with their provider to understand how often to get screened.
- Women ages 40 to 44 who are at average risk for breast cancer should start breast cancer screening with a once-a-year mammogram. By age 45, all women should receive annual mammograms.
- At age 55, women can have mammograms every two years, or they can continue yearly screening.
- Patients should share any changes they notice in their breast health with their provider as early as possible.
- Women can reduce their risk of breast cancer by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol consumption, and not smoking.
“Women have a larger presence in our military than ever before,” said Calentine. “Women also have a one in eight chance of developing breast cancer. That said, preventative screenings are the best option to identify breast cancer and also increase survival rates with early detection.”
There are more than 9,100 female veterans in Montana. Calentine’s job is to help veterans access their VA benefits and health care services. She can be reached at (406) 438-1684 to assist with any questions.