Breast Cancer Screening: Self Exams and Mammograms

Mammogram procedure to screen for breast cancer

As we march into October, many of you may see a predominant amount of pink decorating sports fields, advertisements, and signage spaces in your local communities. As a women’s health practice, we are dedicated to both advocating for your health and arming you with the information to be your own advocate. This month, we are celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and second leading cause of cancer-related death in women. One out of eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. On average, one woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every two minutes. In just one year, over 252,710 U.S. women will receive a breast cancer diagnoses, and over 40,500 will die from the disease. 

These somber statistics only make it more important to use available tools for early breast cancer detection. Breast self-exams and prescribed mammography are two vital early breast cancer detection tools women should incorporate into their regular breast health regimen. 

Breast Self-Exam

It’s important to do monthly breast self exams, as 40-percent of diagnosed breast cancers are initially discovered by women who “feel a lump.” 

Women, at all ages and stages of their lives, should perform breast self-exams, including those who are pregnant, post-menopausal, breastfeeding, or have breast implants. 

The best time of the month to do a breast self exam is a few days after your menstrual cycle, when breasts are less tender. Post-menopausal women should choose the same day each month to maintain routine. 

Monthly self-breast exams can be performed utilizing these three methods:

In the Shower – Move the pads of your fingers around the entire breast in a circular pattern, from the outside of the breast toward the center. Check both breasts and complete armpit areas. 

In Front of a Mirror – Inspect your breasts with your arms by your sides, followed by your arms raised high overhead. Place palms on hips while pressing firmly to flex chest muscles. Pay attention to changes regarding contour, swelling, skin dimpling, or nipple differences.

Lying Down – Place a pillow under your right shoulder with right arm behind head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around the right breast in a circular pattern from the outside toward the center, covering the entire breast and armpit area. Exert light, medium, and firm pressure. Repeat on left side. 

Breast Abnormalities 

Call your CWC practitioner if you note any of the following during your breast self exam:

  • Lumps
  • Thickening
  • Hardened knots
  • Dimpling or puckering
  • Changes to one side (it’s important to note women’s breasts are often different)
  • Nipple discharge
  • Nipple inversion
  • Redness or scaling of nipple or breast skin 
  • Pain and/or swelling

Mammography Guidelines 

Mammography, special x-rays of the breasts and surrounding areas, greatly increases the chance of early detection of any abnormalities that may lead to breast cancer. Mammography can find abnormalities about three years before they may be felt, making it an important component of early breast cancer detection.  

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends the following mammography guidelines for women considered to present average breast cancer risk:

  • age 45 through 54 - Regular annual mammography 
  • age 55 and over -  Mammography every two years

ACS maintains women ages 40 to 44 should continue with the option to begin annual mammography screening early and women age 55 and older can screen yearly, should they choose. 

Women of greater risk for breast cancer are those who have a first-degree relative (mother, sister or daughter) diagnosed with either breast or ovarian cancer before menopause. This includes women who have a first-degree male relative with breast cancer diagnosis. (Breast cancer is a rare occurrence in men, who make up one-percent of yearly breast cancer diagnoses.)  These women should have yearly mammograms performed. 

What to Expect During Mammography

Mammography is done while standing in front of a specialized x-ray machine. The technician places your breast on a clear plate with another plate firmly pressing it from above, flattening the breast and holding it still. This is done for each breast. Four x-rays are taken – one of each breast and its corresponding side view. There is usually a small waiting time afterward to ensure x-rays depict necessary images. 

Some women may experience slight discomfort or pressure during mammography. Avoid mammography right before or during your period when breasts may be tender and swollen. 

Avoid wearing deodorant, powder or perfume during mammography as they show on the x-ray. 

Since mammography requires undressing from the waist up (while wearing a cape-like front-opening smock) you may be more comfortable wearing a shirt with pants or a skirt. 

Radiologists read mammography x-rays and provide results to you and your doctor within a few weeks. If there are concerning results, the facility will contact you. Women with normal results should maintain regular screening schedules as recommended and prescribed.  

It is important to maintain regular mammography schedules as determined by your physician for early breast cancer detection. Delayed detection means more aggressive treatment and poorer prognosis.

Talk to your Capital Women’s Care team  if you notice any changes in your breasts or need to discuss your breast health plan.

Our Mission

The providers of Capital Women's Care seek the highest quality medical and ethical standard in an environment that nurtures the spirit of caring for every woman.

 

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