Regardless of age, most of us have been impacted by breast cancer one way or another—some of us may be receiving treatment for it, survived it, or have known someone affected by it. One important truth about it is that early detection can save a life. It can mean finding breast cancer at Stage 0 where a surgical removal may be all that is needed or catching it at later stages but before it spreads to lymph nodes.
Screening for breast cancer involves getting a monthly breast exam and a yearly mammogram from early 30’s for women with a family history of the disease, and from 40 for everyone else.
For most of us, there is something very uncomfortable about having your breasts examined for clinical reasons. A big part of it is the fear that something may be found. It’s akin to that irrational fear you get while driving near a cliff and thinking you may drive off. This also extends to mammograms where your breasts are mashed up in various uncomfortable positions. In spite of all the discomfort, we have to find a way to embrace the process of getting these exams.
Here are a few practical tips for making breast exams and mammograms more manageable and bearable:
Monthly Breast Exams
- Add a monthly reminder on your phone to check your breasts for changes. It’s best to check a few days after your period starts. For women who do not have periods, set a reminder on the first day of each month.
- For how to perform the self-exam, please visit this link.
- If you’re unable to do the exam yourself, please have your partner or someone you have access to monthly do the exam for you.
- Follow up with your doctor if you detect any new changes.
- Schedule a yearly appointment. Be diligent about immediately rescheduling cancellations. A missed appointment may mean a lost opportunity for early detection.
- If you have fibrous breasts that are sensitive to touch, consider taking a painkiller before the exam. Also avoid getting your mammogram while on your period since some women experience breast tenderness.
- To manage anxiety during the mammogram, take deep, calming breaths and talk to the technician assisting you through the exam. It usually should help you be less anxious since they are likely to have answers to your questions. Also, consider going to the appointment with a friend if it can help manage your anxiety. Some exam rooms allow patients listen to music or podcasts via their Bluetooth connection.
With regular breast self-exams and managing our fears, we’ll become less anxious and more confident in caring for our breasts.