Live a healthy lifestyle and be aware of any changes in your body — those are the best ways to be as healthy as you can be.
This month a focus is on breast health awareness. Protective factors that may decrease a person’s risk of breast cancer include the obvious, such as exercise, don’t smoke, eat a balanced diet that’s low in fat and high in fruits and vegetables and be sure to get routine health screenings.
“Mammograms start at age 40 and they should have them every year,” said Missy Laposky, clinical cancer patient navigator at the Essentia Health Cancer Center at St. Joseph’s Medical Center (SJMC) in Brainerd.
In addition, it’s recommended that women ages 20-39 be diligent about having a breast exam by a health-care provider every three years. Women over age 40 should have one yearly.
Although research has not shown that it saves lives, monthly self-breast exams are recommended so women more easily detect any changes, such as new lumps, redness or dimpling of the skin, or nipple discharge. These changes should be reported as soon as possible to a health-care provider for further evaluation.
“Just know your body. If anything changes, then you have to contact your health-care provider,” Laposky said.
Laposky pointed out that each patient is different, and each should discuss his or her health with a primary care physician.
Also know your family genetics so you know if you have an inherited risk of disease.
Breast health services offered through Essentia Health include mammograms at the Baxter Clinic or SJMC, as well as diagnostic exams at the hospital.
Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) will also be available soon at Essentia Health-SJMC. This test images the breast differently than a mammogram. Screening MRI is used in some women at higher risk or with a diagnosed genetic syndrome associated with developing breast cancer.
However, for most women mammograms provide excellent screening for early detection.
A grant from the Minnesota Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure has allowed Essentia to give 600 gas cards to those in the area who need help to get to a mammogram appointment in Brainerd or Baxter.
On Thursday, Oct. 18, the Baxter Clinic will be a stopping point for a Girls’ Night Out event, where breast health awareness materials will be available from 3-8:30 p.m.
To help women with preventative services like mammograms and annual physicals, Essentia Health offers the SAGE program that pays for these services for women who meet certain income guidelines.
SAGE is Minnesota’s cancer screening program that can target different cancers.
At Essentia, the SAGE program targets women age 40 or older (or women younger than 40 if they have a family history of breast cancer or if they’ve found a lump) and women with no insurance or who are under-insured (have a high deductible).
If women in these target areas meet income guidelines they can qualify for SAGE, which pays for yearly physicals and breast exams, as well as a pap smear every three years.
“They can get this done every year,” said Betsy Dahlgren-Hoff, SAGE program coordinator at Essentia Health-SJMC in Brainerd, noting women get prescreened every year to ensure they still qualify for the program.
A highlight of the program is that women can continue to see their primary health-care provider at Essentia Health, whether that’s in Pine River, Pequot Lakes, Crosslake or anywhere else, Dahlgren-Hoff said. They just go to SJMC in Brainerd or the Baxter Clinic for the mammogram.
Essentia received a Susan G. Komen grant that’s being used to market the SAGE program, plus health-care providers are telling patients about the program, Dahlgren-Hoff said, noting she’s seen a big increase in the number of women using the SAGE program in the past four to five months.
“It’s amazing how many women call and they’ve never heard about the program, which is so sad because there’s no limit,” Dahlgren-Hoff said. “We could have thousands of women come through the program if they qualify.”
To learn more about the SAGE program, contact Dahlgren-Hoff at 218-828-7166.