CLEVELAND — We all think it won’t happen to us, but women have a one in eight chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime -- and many don’t know how important it is to be proactive about their breast health.
3News' Danielle Wiggins is opening up about her own breast cancer diagnosis at just 40 years old in the hopes that sharing her story will help empower and educate other women -- and men -- to know their risk factors.
"Self breast exams are actually discouraged by many organizations, not by us," Dr. Pederson said. "[You should] check yourself monthly at the end of your period. It doesn't matter if you do it right. You know, just do it, and report any changes that you feel. Many women find their own lumps like you did."
When it comes to self exams and mammogram screenings, official guidance from healthcare groups is not always consistent. While the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends screenings starting at age 50, other organizations, including the Cleveland Clinic, recommend beginning at 40.
Wiggins says, she's so glad her doctors encouraged her to schedule a routine screening when she turned 40. In the time between scheduling her first mammogram and the appointment, she happened to feel something off in her breast tissue.
"The first time I touched it and found that lump, I said, 'Ooh, that doesn't feel normal.'"
Dr. Pederson says this experience illustrates why many experts now support even earlier screenings -- particularly for certain groups.
"Black women were almost twice as likely to have breast cancer found on their first mammogram as white women," Dr. Pederson said. "That lends itself to our wondering whether 40 is even early enough."
Black women and women with Ashkenazi Jewish heritage are among the groups with the highest risk factors for breast cancer – the American College of Radiology recommends that all women, but particularly these groups, undergo a risk assessment at the age of 30.
"[That risk assessment] also gives women a chance to talk about healthy habits with regard to breast care," Dr. Pederson said. "Limiting alcohol consumption, keeping your weight nice and healthy, eating well and exercising. But many times we can identify women who are at increased risk, who may benefit from additional screening."
It's important to note that two thirds of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have no identifiable risk factors, but it is still important for women and men to educate themselves on those topics.
Other tips? Know your breast density – something only a mammogram can tell you. And most importantly, know your family history.
For Wiggins, she didn’t realize a history of prostate cancer on her father’s side of the family could be linked to risks for breast cancer. Genetic counseling can help you gain those insights.
Dr. Pederson says it's not uncommon for those at high risk to be reluctant to seek care.
"What I see very commonly is that the women who are at the highest risk are the least likely to want to talk about it and the most afraid to go forward with screening and testing and genetics and all of that," she said. "We believe in a woman, you know, really taking control and advocating for herself in that way."
Editor's note: Video in the player above was originally published in an unrelated health story regarding 3News' Monica Robins on March 8, 2022.