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Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of columns recognizing Breast Cancer Awareness Month running in each week's Health section throughout October.

The month of October ushers in a number of distinct visuals: beautiful fall foliage, Halloween costumes and the color pink — a recognizable symbol of breast cancer awareness.

For too many women around the world, living with breast cancer is a year-round battle. And the occurrences of breast cancer continue to rise. Affecting about one out of every eight women, the American Cancer Society estimates nearly 270,000 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer this year alone.

Widely known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October is the perfect time to show support for these individuals, remember those who've lost their battle with cancer and be mindful about our own breast health. For the purpose of this article, let's focus on the latter.

It's important to understand your risk factors and consult your primary care provider about what's best for your individual needs. Generally, the most effective ways to lower your risk are to exercise regularly, eat a well-balanced diet, maintain a healthy weight, limit alcohol intake and get a yearly mammogram screening starting at age 40. If you have a relative with breast cancer, this can make your risk of cancer higher, so be sure to let your provider know as your screening timeline may change.

Beyond maintaining a healthy lifestyle, all women should be mindful about any noticeable changes in their breasts. If anything seems unusual or out of the ordinary, see your doctor and get it checked. Remember mammograms catch microscopic changes you may not be able to feel yet on an exam, so don't put off getting your mammogram just because you don't feel changes. Breast cancer is most treatable during its early stages, making early detection vital.

While many patients find mammograms to be uncomfortable, they are nonetheless the best screening method available and have been proven to save lives. Because incidents of breast cancer increase with age, annual mammogram screenings should continue until your life expectancy reaches 10 years or fewer. This is a discussion women should have with their doctor when they enter their 80s.

Advancements in technology have improved the reliability of mammography. New 3D mammography allows physicians to better distinguish masses or tissues that might be cancerous from healthy breast tissue. It has increased the accuracy of detecting breast cancer in its early stages and is especially helpful for screening women who have dense breast tissue.

The best way to remember those we have lost to breast cancer and those currently battling breast cancer is to be proactive in fighting this battle. Get your mammogram, and let's put the pressure on cancer.

SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital is having a Mammothon throughout the month of October. Make your health a priority, and schedule your mammogram today. There are special extended hours every Wednesday in October and a free gift for all participants, while supplies last.

For an appointment at SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital, schedule online at or call 573-681-3181.

Amanda Vickers, DO, is a board-certified family medicine physician with SSM Health Medical Group. Her office is located at 3527 W. Truman Blvd. in Jefferson City. To make an appointment with Dr. Vickers, call 573-761-7979.

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