They are wives, mothers, daughters, and friends. They’re the ones who guide tiny hands until they are bigger than her own. They are the glue that keep families together and every year more than 190,000 of them die of breast cancer.
One of Gods most beautiful creatures that has ever graced the earth. Keepers of all that’s sacred in this world and one in eight are affected by this terrible and often fatal disease.
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is a malignant tumor that starts in the cells of the breast. This group of cancer cells can invade surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to other areas of the body. The disease occurs almost solely in women, but men can also acquire it.
As the Race for the Cure is once again upon us, I considered it appropriate to use this as an opportunity to educate. If you know someone who could use this information, please by all means pass it along. A little awareness can go a long way.
Every woman has the capability to detect the early stages of breast cancer. Catching it as early as possible is the key to survival. Nearly forty percent of all detection has been from self-examination. Here are five steps of a breast exam from breastcancer.org:
- Stand in front of a mirror with arms at your side and visually look for any changes. Now, raise your arms and look for the same changes.
- While you’re at the mirror, look for any signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples such as a watery, milky, or yellow fluid or blood.
- Feel your breasts while lying down, using your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left hand to feel your right breast. Use a firm, smooth touch with the first few finger pads of your hand, keeping the fingers flat and together. Use a circular motion, about the size of a quarter.
- Cover the entire breast from top to bottom, side to side — from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage. Follow a pattern to be sure that you cover the whole breast. You can begin at the nipple, moving in larger and larger circles until you reach the outer edge of the breast. You can also move your fingers up and down vertically, in rows, as if you were mowing a lawn. This up-and-down approach seems to work best for most women. Be sure to feel all the tissue from the front to the back of your breasts. For the skin and tissue just beneath, use light pressure. Use medium pressure for tissue in the middle of your breasts. Firm pressure for the deep tissue in the back. When you’ve reached the deep tissue, you should be able to feel down to your rib cage.
- Finally, feel your breasts while you are standing or sitting. Many women find that the easiest way to feel their breasts is when their skin is wet and slippery, so they like to do this step in the shower. Cover your entire breast, using the same hand movements described in Step 4.
It’s necessary for women to self exam once a month for prevention’s sake. No matter what it takes for you to remember; the buddy system, your birth control pill calendar, Google Calendar with an alarm to your smart phone, or exert it as an excuse for play time with your significant other. Just get it done. Remember, no one knows your body better than you do. If you notice any changes and you’re not certain about them, consult a doctor.PHYSICAL EXAMS
Womenshealth.gov states that from the age of twenty-one, you should see your gynecologist for an exam every two years. Not only does the doctor examine your breast to help prevent breast cancer, pap smears and pelvic exams are women’s number one defense against other forms of feminine cancers and diseases. Your gynecologist will check your breast in the same manner that you do once a month and will also instruct you how to properly examine for growths.
Talk to your doctor about any concerns that you may have and be honest when he ask you a question. There is nothing you can tell the doctor that will come as a surprise as they have seen and heard it all. Determine your risk factors and learn what symptoms to watch for.
The Mayo Clinic has a list of risk factors to take into consideration:
- Being female. Women are much more likely than men are to develop breast cancer.
- Increasing age. Your risk of breast cancer increases as you age. Women older than fifty-five have a greater risk than younger women.
- A personal history of breast cancer. If you’ve had breast cancer in one breast, you have an increased risk of developing cancer in the other breast.
- A family history of breast cancer. If you have a mother, sister or daughter with breast cancer, you have a greater chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer. Still, the majority of people diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease.
- Inherited genes that increase cancer risk. Certain gene mutations that increase the risk of breast cancer can be passed from parents to children. The most common gene mutations are referred to as BRCA1 and BRCA2. These genes can greatly increase your risk of breast cancer and other cancers, but they don’t make cancer inevitable.
- Radiation exposure. If you received radiation treatments to your chest as a child or young adult, you’re more likely to develop breast cancer later in life.
- Obesity. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of breast cancer because fat tissue produces estrogen that may help fuel certain cancers.
- Beginning your period at a younger age. Beginning your period before age twelve increases your risk of breast cancer.
- Beginning menopause at an older age. If you began menopause after age fifty-five, you’re more likely to develop breast cancer.
- Having your first child at an older age. Women who give birth to their first child after age thirty-five may have an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Postmenopausal hormone therapy. Women who take hormone therapy medications that combine estrogen and progesterone to treat the signs and symptoms of menopause have an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Drinking alcohol. Drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer. Experts recommend no more than one alcoholic beverage a day for women.
Of course these factors change as scientists do more research, so it’s best to check for updates every so often. Again, open and honest communication with your doctor can save your life.
Some agencies offer free yearly and breast exams such as Planned Parenthood. October is breast cancer awareness month and many other agencies also offer free breast screening. A great place to start is your local news or internet search.
According to the Mayo Clinic staff, A mammogram is an x-ray image of your breast used to screen for breast cancer.
Mammograms play a key role in early breast cancer detection and help decrease breast cancer deaths.
During a mammogram, your breasts are compressed between two firm surfaces in order to spread out the breast tissue. Then an x-ray captures black-and-white images of your breasts that a doctor uses to detect changes and cancer.
Steps to get a mammogram listed in a downloadable PDF from Susan G. Komen Atlanta:
- Choose a certified facility. Look for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) certificate and accreditation by the American College of Radiology (ACR).
- Pick a good time. A mammogram may be uncomfortable if you have sensitive breasts. If you are menstruating, plan to have your mammogram the week after your period, when your breasts are less tender.
- Gather your information. When you make your appointment, there will be a list of questions for you to answer such as personal history of breast cancer, family history of breast cancer, current breast problems, past breast surgery, the date(s) of your past mammogram(s). During your visit, be sure to ask about how and when you will get your results, and when you need to come back.
- Know what to expect. During a mammogram your breast is pressed between two plastic plates in at least two views. These plates flatten the breast tissue so that a good picture is taken. This will not harm your breast. Although it may be uncomfortable, it should not hurt. Be sure to tell the technologist if the pressure becomes painful.
- Come prepared. Wear a shirt that you can take of easily. If you use deodorant, talcum powder or lotion on your breasts or underarms you will be asked to remove it before your mammogram. If you have had a past mammogram at a different facility, obtain and bring your past X-rays with you. If you cannot bring the X-rays with you, provide the name and address of the facility where X-rays were taken.
- Get your results. If you do not get your results within two weeks call your doctor or the mammography facility. Don’t assume your results are normal is you have not gotten them.
- Talk with your doctor about your results. If your mammogram shows anything unusual, talk with your doctor about what to do next. Ask if your mammogram results indicate that you have dense breast tissue. If so, discuss what this means for you and what, if anything, you should do next.
A mammogram can be used either for screening or for diagnostic purposes. How often you should have a mammogram depends on your age and your risk of breast cancer.
Women over forty should have a mammogram every one to two years dependent upon their risk factors. If your breasts are too dense, your doctor can order a digital screening such as an ultrasound or MRI. Keep in mind that these test are not always full proof. Mammograms can miss up to twenty percent of breast cancer that simply is just not visible. However, these tests are the best tools for an accurate diagnosis that doctors have today.
According to breastcancer.org, detection by mammograms has shown the risk of dying from breast cancer lowered by thirty-five percent. Mammograms can detect tumors missed by self-examinations and the earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the higher a woman’s mortality rate.
Learn what to expect from exams, tests, detection, and treatment. If a tumor is suspected your doctor might order a biopsy. According to the American Cancer Society, about one in ten who have a mammogram will require more tests. Only eight to ten percent of these women will need a biopsy, and about eighty percent of these biopsies will turn out to be noncancerous. It’s normal to worry if you get called back for more testing, but try not to assume the worst until you have more information.
Nutrition and exercise also play an important part in your body’s health. There’s a lot of information out there, it’s important to research and obtain the correct information regarding nutrition facts. A great place to start is the John Hopkins Breast Center. Here you will find information regarding consultations, guidelines, and myths. And as always, maintaining a healthy body weight with regular exercise has many health benefits such as lower risk for heart disease, and diabetes.
You are the only person who can decide to take care of your body, breast included. In an age of information at ones fingertips, there truly are no excuses about how to better your health. Early detection of breast cancer not only can save your life, it can prevent major surgery and pain and suffering.
Use the links in this article to help educate yourself. There are also other valuable links listed below.
Women’s Breast Health by Mayo Clinic Staff
Cancer Treatment Centers of America
Women’s Health at WebMD
National Breast Cancer Foundation, INC
Women’s Health Services
National Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Susan G. Komen
Breast Cancer Awareness