Breast Cancer Prevention has no time to stay tuned. October is a month of fall colors, pumpkins, and chills – both due to the cooler weather and to the spooky atmosphere that is associated with Halloween.
However, this month is also dedicated to a disease that affects millions of women in our country today – 2.8 million of them, to be exact. That disease is breast cancer.
While we as a society are very aware of this disease’s existence, not many women know the early signs and symptoms.
This is critical information because early detection is the key to successfully battling this disease. So what should we look for?
Early signs of breast cancer include:
- A lump in the breast or underarm
- swelling in the armpit
- tender breasts
- unusual skin changes or discharge from the breast
- changes in the nipple
However, cancer is found in many women who do not exhibit any of these symptoms. This is why screening is important. The American Cancer Society recommends mammograms as a method of early detection.
A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast. They are not like your typical x-rays, and expose the breast to very little radiation. During a mammogram, the breast is placed in-between two plates to flatten the breast tissue.
This process is uncomfortable, but should not be painful, and only lasts a few moments.
A digital image is taken and examined by a radiologist.
The radiologist looks for two things that indicate cancer – calcifications and masses.
Calcifications are mineral deposits within the breast tissue.
They show up as white spots on the mammogram. In most cases, these calcifications do not require further scrutiny unless they are of unusual size and shape.
In that case, a biopsy is recommended.
A mass is an area where there are abnormalities.
They could either be a cyst or a fibroid, but could also be indicative of cancer.
Because a tumor and a benign cyst can look and feel the same, a breast ultrasound can be recommended as further inspection of the area.
This is also where having multiple mammograms are important, to record the size and changes in these areas which can help in determining if they are cancerous or not.
So when should women begin checking for breast cancer? Women in their early 20’s should begin doing breast self examinations.
This is best done in the shower, 3 – 5 days after their period starts.
This helps a women not only check for abnormalities, but know how their breasts feel normally.
Women in their 20’s should have a clinical breast exam performed by their health care physician every three years.
Women generally do not have mammograms until their 40’s, but if there is a high risk (i.e. having close biological relatives who have had a history of breast cancer), they may be recommended to do it sooner.
So this October, remember to think pink, and be an active participant in your health by not only being aware, but checking yourself, talking to your doctor,
and supporting those battling breast cancer through donations, buying products that support breast cancer charities, and providing moral support to those who need it.
This post originally appeared on outloud.com