Most of us know somebody whose life has been impacted by breast cancer. Whether they’re going through it themselves or have a close relative or friend who has been diagnosed — the disease is far too common.
At Women’s Healthcare of Morgantown, one of our main priorities is to educate women about breast cancer — the risks, signs and most importantly, when and how to be screened. We believe that it’s never too early to teach self-check techniques as it’s part of overall wellness and self-care. Combined with regular mammograms, cancer can often be found early.
WHAT IS BREAST CANCER?
Breast cancers can start in different parts of the breast — sometimes they begin in the milk ducts (called ductal cancers), and sometimes they start in the glands that produce breast milk (lobular cancers). The cancers all start when cells in the breast start to grow out of control,forming a tumor.
The tumors can usually be felt and seen on an x-ray — they feel like a small lump or knot. It is important to note that not all breast cancers cause a lump. There are other symptoms that should be checked for, too (see “who should self-check?).
Many lumps in the breast are benign, meaning non-cancerous, but all lumps should be looked at by your healthcare provider so that you know exactly what’s going on.
WHO IS AT RISK?
There are many risk factors for breast cancer. It’s important to know if you have one or more risk factors so that you can share with your healthcare provider, but remember, the presence of risk factors does not mean you have or will get breast cancer.
- Age: Most breast cancer cases are diagnosed after age 50. Starting menopause after age 55
can also increase the risk.
- Overall Health Habits: Not being physically active and excessive drinking can increase breast
cancer risk, as can being overweight or obese.
- Genetic Factors: Women who carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene have a higher risk of ovarian
and breast cancer.
- Personal and Family History: If you’ve had breast cancer before, you’re more likely to get it a second time. If your mother, sister, or daughter have had breast cancer this also raises the risk.
There are other factors that can also increase the risk of breast cancer, but these are the most common. Your healthcare provider can discuss your risk factors with you to establish a screening routine and healthy habits to lower your breast cancer risk.
HOW CAN IT BE DETECTED?
There are different ways to check for breast cancer. With all screenings, early detection is key
— which means you need to self-check and discuss screening with your healthcare provider.
Screening for breast cancer starts at home with a self-check — this should begin around the
time of the first menstrual period. Mammograms are also a crucial screening step that should begin around age 40.
- Self-Check: Self-checks for breast cancer are important — you know your body better than anybody else. Self-checks should be performed monthly.
- Imaging Test: Imaging tests include mammograms, breast ultrasound and breast MRI scans. Your healthcare provider will help you determine which imaging test is best for you.
- Biopsy: Biopsies are only performed when a physical exam or imaging test shows a breast change. The biopsy will analyze the lump to determine if it is or is not cancerous.
The frequency of mammograms may vary — typically, they will be annual beginning at age 40.
Many women don’t perform regular self-breast exams, which are a crucial part of breast cancer screenings. Below, we list the steps to effectively self-check.
WHO NEEDS TO SELF-CHECK?
Self-exams should begin as soon as the breasts are fully developed. If the menstrual cycle has
started at this point (which it almost always has), the self-exam should be performed the week following a woman’s period. This is when the breast tissue is least swollen, making it easier to feel abnormalities. There are three main steps to performing a self-exam: the shower, in front of a mirror and lying down.
Using the pads of your fingers, check the entire breast and armpit area using a circular pattern. Start on the outside and move to the center, checking for lumps, thickening or a “hardened knot”. It’s important to take note of any changes and see a healthcare provider if you are concerned.
When you look in the mirror, you’ll look at the breast first — look with your arms down by your >sides and then with the arms reaching overhead. You’re looking for any changes in the contour,
the presence of swelling or dimpling, and/or changes in the nipples.
The reason for lying down is to evenly spread the breast tissue out along the chest. The best way to self-check lying down is to place a pillow under the shoulder you’re checking — let’s say
the left side. You’ll then raise your left arm over your head and check the breast area with the
You should vary the pressure you use and also check the nipples for lumps and discharge.
Remember to check both sides.
BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an annual international health campaign organized by major
breast cancer charities to increase awareness and raise funds for prevention, diagnosis,treatment, research and cure.
You can help by encouraging you daughters, sisters and mothers to self-check and schedule
their mammograms. And if you haven’t performed a self-check in a while, or have skipped a mammogram, schedule an appointment. You and your health are too important to neglect.Click below to schedule your breast cancer screening appointment.