October is dedicated to raising awareness about breast cancer and prevention.
One in eight American woman will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Men are also susceptible to this disease, though not as frequently as women. In 2015, there were more than 230,000 new cases of breast cancer in the United States. In that same year, more than 40,000 women died of breast cancer. There is no clear cause, though alcohol consumption, family history, body fat and age are associated with increased risk.
What we do know is breast cancer happens when cells go haywire.
Self-checking can find breast cancer. Look for swelling and lumps. While soreness isn’t usually a symptom, if it persists, see a doctor just to be sure. You are the one who knows your breasts better than anyone – check them often by practicing TLC: Touch, Look, Check.
» Touch: When checking for abnormalities, press gently around nipples, the breast, top, sides, and bottom, and under the armpits and upper chest. Do you feel a lump? Lumps might not be visible on the surface, but they can be felt. Often a lump is hormonal, associated with your period, or it could be cystic and not cancerous, so only screening with a doctor can confirm its status.
» Look: Are there any changes in your breast? Swelling? A dimple? One breast larger than the other? Do you feel any changes in skin texture? Any new or large dark moles? Does the breast look red or inflamed? Have nipples changed? Is one nipple inverted and the other not? Do you have any nipple discharge? Is there any rash or crusting on or around the nipple?
» Check: If any of your answers are yes, see your doctor. Don’t worry. A yes to any of the above doesn’t mean you have cancer, but screening will confirm. Checking in with your doctor will also give you a running log of your breast care history for comparison.
While self-exam can be helpful, mammography is the best way to detect breast cancer early – often before it can be felt. Finding cancers when they’re small increases your chances of surviving and decreases the severity of your treatment.
There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about when and how often to have a mammogram. However, all parties agree that having a mammogram every year starting at age 40 saves the most lives. It’s up to you to decide if the risk of having additional imaging or a negative biopsy is worth minimizing your treatment and increasing your chances of being cured if you are diagnosed with breast cancer.
Be a screen queen: self-check your breasts!
Information provided and approved by Helen Sandven, MD. Dr. Sandven is a radiologist with Asheville Radiology and the Director of Breast Imaging for Mission Health.