Talking to Your Doctor About Your Risk Factors

Cancer screenings are something that should be a part of our lives on a regular basis, but especially so if we are at higher risk for developing certain types of cancer. This is important information for our doctors to have so that decisions can be made regarding earlier or more regular screenings. For instance, while the age for a baseline mammogram is forty, with yearly mammograms to follow, a mammogram or breast ultrasound (often used for women who have dense breast tissue) may be ordered at an earlier age if there is evidence of certain risk factors.

This is where communication is so important, as well as having a solid relationship with a doctor you can trust. Keep these factors in mind when discussing your risk factors with your medical team:

You don’t need to impress anyone. In some cases, patients may not disclose a smoking habit, may exaggerate healthy eating habits, or downplay recreational drug use or alcohol consumption. Your doctor needs to know all the facts that contribute to (or detract from) your health. Don’t spare the details. This should be a relationship where you always feel comfortable being completely honest. If not, then you need to find another doctor with whom you do have that comfort level.

Write down your family history. When it comes to cancer risk, it’s important to know your family history. Talk to family members to gather as much information as possible so that you can give your doctors everything they need to manage your healthcare appropriately.

Discuss any symptoms or concerns. With a solid, honest working relationship in place with your doctor it’s important to be able express any concerns you may have about your health and changes that you may have noticed. Speak up and speak often. In so doing, you are standing up for your health.

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