HOUSTON (KIAH) October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most breast cancers are found in women who are aged 50 years or older, but many women diagnosed with breast cancer are younger than that.

“I can positively say, I’m a key witness to it, that self-breast exams saved my life.”

Dr. Alexandria Lightning, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC
Lightning Medical Founder

As a primary physician with her own practice, Dr. Lightning knows the importance of routine screenings. 

Organizations like the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American Cancer Society all have similar guidelines on when women should begin receiving mammograms. For the most part, these groups recommend women aged 50 and up begin receiving routine mammograms. For women 40 to 49, they say women should consult with their healthcare provider.

There is a group of high-risk women though, those who have a family history of breast cancer or abnormal BRCA1 or abnormal BRCA2 gene, who should work with their provider for earlier screenings.

Dr. Lightning herself did have a family history of breast cancer or genetic markers for the disease. Then at just 33 years old, she felt a pea-sized lump in her breast that turned her world upside down.

“From the time that I had my first appointment with oncologists to the time I actually started chemotherapy, my breast tumor doubled in size,” she said.

The diagnosis – ductal carcinoma, an aggressive and fast-growing breast cancer. 

Dr. Lightning began chemotherapy, losing her hair before heading straight to surgery for a double mastectomy. The next step on Dr. Lightning’s journey, she said, is reconstructive surgery.

“The key to survival and not dying from it is catching it early and starting treatment early,” she said.

Her last piece of advice: She wants other women not to ignore their own bodies.

Know the warning signs of breast cancer

According to Susan G. Komen, the warning signs of breast cancer are not the same for all women.

The most common warning signs are:

  • A change in the look or feel of the breast
  • A change in the look or feel of the nipple
  • Nipple discharge

If you have any of the warning signs described below, see a health care provider.

You can visit the Susan G. Komen website for more details on these warning signs and diagrams to help you know the symptoms.