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VALDOSTA – Nearly 10 million cancer screenings were missed in the United States due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, is the time to reschedule your mammogram appointment, according to a statement from Lowndes County health officials.

Breast cancer remains the second most common cancer among women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Each year in the United States, about 264,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women and about 2,400 in men. About 42,000 women and 500 men in the U.S. die each year from breast cancer.

In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, public health officials said they are committed to providing education on the importance of breast cancer screenings, early detection and healthy living.

Through South Health District’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Program, women who are Georgia residents, uninsured or underinsured and low-income, and who are 40 to 64 years of age can get clinical breast exams, pelvic examinations, pap smears (if needed) and mammogram referrals.

“We understand that throughout the pandemic many people weren’t able to or didn’t feel comfortable going to the doctor,” said Missy Pollock, R.N. women’s health coordinator. “Now is the time to reschedule those missed appointments and regain control of your health.”

For individuals who are unsure of their risk, the CDC explains that the risk of developing breast cancer is influenced by many factors, such as:

– Getting older. The risk for breast cancer increases with age; most breast cancers are diagnosed after age 50.

– Genetic mutations. Inherited changes (mutations) to certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2. Women who have inherited these genetic changes are at higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

– Reproductive history. Early menstrual periods before age 12 and starting menopause after age 55 expose women to hormones longer, raising their risk of getting breast cancer.

– Having dense breasts. Dense breasts have more connective tissue than fatty tissue, which can sometimes make it hard to see tumors on a mammogram. Women with dense breasts are more likely to get breast cancer.

– Personal history of breast cancer or certain non-cancerous breast diseases. Women who have had breast cancer are more likely to get breast cancer a second time. Some non-cancerous breast diseases such as atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ are associated with a higher risk of getting breast cancer.

– Family history of breast cancer. Women (as well as men) who have a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter, father or brother) with a history of breast cancer have two times higher risk of developing breast cancer compared to those who do not have this family history.

As with many types of cancer, medical experts do not know exactly what causes breast cancer, health officials said, but they do know that early detection and healthy living can offer some protection.

There are also some modifiable risk factors that can increase your risk of developing breast cancer.

These include weight gain after the age of 18, being overweight or obese (for postmenopausal breast cancer), use of combined estrogen and progestin hormone therapy, physical inactivity, long-term heavy smoking and alcohol consumption.

Here are recommendations to help reduce the risk of breast cancer:

– Getting regular physical exercise.

– Maintaining a healthy weight.

– Limiting alcohol intake to no more than one drink a day.

– If taking, or have been told to take, hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives (birth control pills), ask your doctor about the risks and find out if it is right for you.

– Breastfeeding your children, if possible.

– If there is a family history of breast cancer or inherited changes in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, talk to a doctor about other ways to lower risk.

– Women between 40 and 64 years of age who do not have health insurance or the resources to get a mammogram may be eligible to receive the health screenings needed at no cost through the breast and cervical cancer program.

To learn more about services, visit www.southhealthdistrict.com.

“Remember, the best protection is early detection,” health officials said.

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