October is Breast Health Awareness month. Anyone who has journeyed through cancer in any form will tell you early detection is key. Self-exams may uncover the first signs. Routine mammograms are also highly valuable in early detection.
Understanding breast cancer
Cancer is an overarching term that describes abnormal cells that grow and invade healthy cells in the body. Breast cancer starts in the cells of the breast and can grow and spread into surrounding tissues of the body (metastasize). Not all abnormal cells are cancerous. Some develop benign tumors, cysts or growths. Some require intervention, but all require a physician’s input to determine the best course of action for you.
What can you do?
Experts recommend doing monthly breast self-exams to look and feel for changes in your breast or nipple tissue.
Look for any redness, tenderness or enlargement of the pores in the skin of the breast (look for an orange peel texture). Take a look at the nipple area, any red, swollen or scaly areas? Are there lumps, dimpling, swelling on one side or unexplained changes to size or shape? What about discharge?
Observe your body unclothed with arms both up and down. Do you see any dimpling or irregularities that are new? The breast tissue extends even into your underarms, so feel there too. If you notice anything that is out of the ordinary, contact your provider promptly.
Why do I need a mammogram?
Not all cancer can be seen or felt from the outside. This is why a routine mammogram, as recommended by your provider, is important.
A mammogram is an x-ray that allows a specialist to see the breast tissue from the inside. This exam can often show a breast lump before it can be felt. Cysts, tumors, calcified cells and cancers require more tests. While it can be concerning to hear that you might need more testing, a biopsy to remove or sample suspicious cells, MRI or ultrasound will help your medical team determine the best way to address the findings.
The National Breast Cancer Foundation recommends a mammogram every one to two years for all women over 40. Women who are younger than 40 with risk factors for breast cancer should speak with their health care provider to determine what is best for them.
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