October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This national awareness campaign is a reminder of how we can empower ourselves to take charge of our health. Below we’ll review the most important steps that we can take to detect abnormal breast cell changes and prevent breast cancer from advancing. These tools help us become more aware of our bodies and learn how to practice preventative care. The following information was compiled from the National Breast Cancer Foundation website.
1. Breast Self-Exam
Adult women and those born with breast tissue of all ages are encouraged to perform breast self-exams at least once a month. This is essential because, as Johns Hopkins Medical center states, “Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.”
Breast self-exams aid you in being familiar with how your breasts look and feel so you can alert your healthcare professional if there are any changes. For instructions on how to perform a thorough breast self-exam, go to this link at the National Breast Cancer Foundation website.
2. Clinical Breast Exam
This is a manual exam performed by a healthcare professional who is trained to recognize many different types of abnormalities and warning signs. These are performed in-office, usually during an annual cervical screening, or after you’ve found a suspicious lump during a breast self-exam. The exam consists of a visual check of skin and tissue, and a manual check for unusual texture or lumps, both in your breasts and armpits. If your healthcare professional finds a suspicious lump that she feels warrants further evaluation, she will recommend a mammogram. Most health insurances cover the cost of an annual cervical screening where the clinical breast exam is performed. Contact your insurance provider to verify this. But don’t wait to make an appointment with your healthcare professional if you find a suspicious lump in your breast or armpit.
A mammogram is an x-ray that allows a qualified specialist to examine the breast tissue for any suspicious areas. The breast is exposed to a small dose of ionizing radiation. Mammograms can often show a breast lump before it can be felt. They also can show tiny clusters of calcium called micro-calcifications. Lumps or specks can be caused by cancer, fatty cells, or other conditions like cysts. Further tests are needed to find out if abnormal cells are present.
Women and people with breast tissue aged 40 and older should have mammograms every 1 or 2 years. If you are younger than 40 and have risk factors for breast cancer you can ask your healthcare professional whether mammograms are advisable and how often to have them. Even those who have no symptoms and no known risks for breast cancer should have regularly scheduled mammograms to help detect potential breast cancer at the earliest possible time. Some health insurances offer free screening mammograms, contact your insurance provider to see if you’re covered for this. Your healthcare professional or primary care physician can refer you for your mammogram.
At Emerge Natural Health Care our physicians can see you for all aspects of breast health care, including clinical breast exams and referrals for a mammogram. If you would like to make an appointment with our office, please call (360) 787-3615.