Prevention is an important part of being healthy. That can mean having a yearly exam. It can mean having routine screening tests. When an illness can’t be avoided, stepping up to help direct your own health care is critical.
Get Involved in Your Care
Lisa Redman proactively fought her high chance of getting cancer after she helped care for her younger sister, Suzanne, who died at 39 from an aggressive case of breast cancer.
Redman says it’s vital to be your own advocate. She used genetic testing to find out if she was at risk of breast cancer, too. She also did her own research. She looked at cancer in her family. She found a pattern of cancer deaths on her father’s side. Many had died young from other types of cancer. Her research gave her some of the answers she needed to help protect herself.
It’s essential to be involved in your care and get the answers you need, she says. Keep asking questions. Keep notes on what you’re told. Do your research. Find support from others who have faced similar problems. Don’t try to go it alone.
It’s also critical to have doctors who listen to you. She changed doctors after some played down her concerns. “If I hadn’t pushed, I might not be here now,” she said.
She didn’t wait to do everything she could to prevent getting cancer. Based on the information she found out about her high cancer risk, she had a hysterectomy first, then a double mastectomy. Testing before that surgery found a pre-cancerous mass near her chest wall in a place that would not have been easily found by a mammogram.
“After going through what I did with my sister, I didn’t think twice,” she said of her choice to have the surgeries. She wanted to spare her family from going through that. She encourages others to get genetic testing if they have a family history of breast cancer. She is open about sharing her experience with her own daughters.
“It’s the not knowing that can hurt you,” she said. Knowing offers a chance to choose a treatment that offers the best odds to survive and enjoy living your life.
Share Your Family History with Your Doctor
A careful talk about family history with your doctor can help you find out if family links to certain illnesses exist. That’s why your doctor has you fill out paperwork that includes questions about family members’ health issues. This information can help them decide what to test and what treatment to use.
“Knowing about a family history is key,” says Dr. Susan Echiverri, a Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plan medical director. It’s important to look at close, blood-related family members, such as parents and siblings — male and female. Finding out about more distant relatives’ health is also important, but it takes time.
“I always tell patients to ‘please look into it,’” says Echiverri, who has been in practice for 28 years and was the head of genetics for a large public hospital. She says it makes a lot of difference to know if someone has a family history of cancer. Family members who had cancer at young ages are a big clue. There is strong scientific evidence that a family history of cancers puts you at higher risk for hereditary cancers, she added.
Health plans often cover genetic counseling and testing in members with certain family histories. Genetic testing and counselors are covered without cost-sharing if you qualify.
Be proactive about your health — it can save your life. A good first step is to talk to your doctor about your risks. You can learn more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Bring Your Brave campaign. The program urges women to learn about their risks for breast cancer and live healthy lifestyles.
*Preventive services at no cost applies only to members enrolled in non-grandfathered health plans. You may have to pay all or part of the cost of preventive care if your health plan is grandfathered. To find out if your plan is grandfathered or non-grandfathered, call the customer service number on your member ID card.
Sources: Breast Cancer Screening, National Cancer Institute, 2017; Bring Your Brave Campaign - Take Action, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2015; What Is a Mammogram? CDC, 2018; Breast Cancer Early Detection and Diagnosis, American Cancer Society