Did you know that about one in eight women in the United States (12 percent) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime? Or that 70-80 percent of those breast cancers occur in women with no family history? Most breast cancers occur as a result of the aging process and life in general, rather than inherited mutations. Found in its early stages, the majority of breast cancers can be treated successfully. Therefore, it is vital that ALL women take the time to ensure that they are doing all they can to screen for this common cancer.
One simple thing that all women can do is a regular breast self exam (read here for five steps of breast self exam). Though breast self exams aren’t guaranteed to find breast cancer, their benefit comes in the fact that doing them regularly will let a women know what her breasts normally look and feel like. This knowledge will make a women more likely to notice if a change ever occurs in their breasts. Some of these changes are:
-Development of a lump or swelling
-Skin irritation or dimpling
-Nipple pain or retraction (turning inward)
-Redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin
-A discharge other than breast milk
*The important thing to remember in doing these exams is not to stress over doing a perfect step-by-step technique but simply being on the look out for anything out of the ordinary.
Since a women’s chance of getting breast cancer increases she ages, it is also important that women who are 35 years or older discuss mammograms with their provider. Since there are so many risk factors for breast cancer, the decision of when to start mammograms and how often to do them should be an individualized decision. Women should be informed of their personal risk as well as the risk of screening.
A mammogram is a safe process that uses a very low amount of radiation to take an x-ray picture of the breast. This procedure produces a black and white image of the breast tissue so your radiologist can look for any calcium deposits or masses. There is generally very little discomfort. For certain women with a high risk of breast cancer, a screening MRI may even be recommended.
With our busy schedules it’s easy to overlook doing self checks or scheduling mammograms. However the small amount of time it takes to complete these exams can go a long way towards saving your life.