It’s October, which means it’s time once again to talk about a sensitive topic: breast health. While advances in medicine have both improved breast cancer awareness and made breast cancer more preventable and treatable, adding a home-care routine can significantly increase your chances of catching breast cancer early. That’s important because when detected early, the survival rate for breast cancer is over 99%! Besides making annual or bi-annual screening appointments with your local mammography provider, what can you do to reduce your risk of breast cancer? Let’s have a look!
The Importance of Self-Breast Exams
The American Cancer Society recommends women begin screening for breast cancer annually starting at age 40. In addition to regular screening appointments with a licensed mammography provider, the ACS also recommends women perform monthly self-breast exams. While no single test can detect all forms of breast cancer (especially in early stages), combining self-breast exams with other screening methods can significantly increase the odds of early detection. What is a self-breast exam and how do you perform one?
Stand in front of the mirror with your arms straight at your sides and your shoulders straight. Look for any abnormalities with regard to size, shape, and color, as well as any visible signs of swelling or distortion. Tell your doctor if you have any signs of:
- Dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skin
- Change in position of the nipple (such as inverted nipple)
- Redness, soreness, rash, or swelling
Raise your arms and look for the same things as step one.
Be on the lookout for signs of fluid discharge from either or both nipples.
While lying down, use your right hand in a circular motion to feel your left breast and vise-versa. Be sure to cover the whole breast, from armpit to breastbone and collarbone to ribcage. The deeper the tissue, the firmer the pressure.
While standing or sitting, repeat step four.
What If You Find an Abnormality?
If in the course of your self-breast exam, you find a lump or other abnormality, the most important thing to remember is to stay calm. In fact, most women actually have lumpy areas in the breasts at any given time, and most lumps are not cancerous. At the same time, no one knows your breasts better than you do. If you notice something out of the ordinary, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor!
Be especially on the lookout for changes that last for more than once menstrual cycle or that seem to not improve or even worsen over time. Often, these subtle changes will clear up after your period. Still, if you have any concerns, contact your doctor.
Make Breast Screening a Part of Your Routine
Just like you pay your bills and get your oil changed, keeping tabs on your breasts should be a part of your normal routine. The more you examine your breasts, the more familiar you’ll become, which means when something is up, you’ll know right away. Try to perform a self-breast exam using the above steps at least once a month.
Since the implementation of the New York State Mammography Law, under most insurance plans, women in New York State are entitled to annual mammograms with no out-of-pocket cost or co-pay and 4 hours of paid leave for mammograms each year. Additionally, mammography clinics must provide extended hours of screening for at least four hours each week.
Breast health and breast cancer awareness is an important part of your overall health. Knowing the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, as well as the resources available to help prevent and treat breast cancer, are all vital to winning the overall fight against this deadly disease. Have questions? Make an appointment with your provider today!