Why you need to have a breast screening routine

It’s breast cancer awareness month and a good time to remind ourselves to stay vigilant and follow through with checking out any unusual signs or symptoms. Knowing what your breasts look like and how they normally feel is a good first step in breast health.

Monthly Breast Exam

Some signs and symptoms to see your doctor about include:

  • Swelling of the breast (with or without lumps)
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Nipple retraction (turning inward)
  • Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
  • Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
  • Skin irritation or dimpling (sometimes looking like an orange peel)

We know the risk of breast cancer increases with age, so screening and early detection is really your best defense. Chinelo & Ndidi have answered the 5 frequently asked questions about screening for breast cancer. 

1. I’m scared to get a mammogram. What should I do?

As unnerving as it may seem, a mammogram exam itself is not painful, just a little uncomfortable for some people. To lessen any potential discomfort, there are a few things you can do:
  • read up on the exam to know what to expect
  • avoid coffee/chocolate if it makes your breasts tender and/or lumpy
  • some women's breasts are more tender during their menstrual period. If you experience this, try to schedule your mammogram during a different time frame
  • finally, try to relax! Do something that calms you before you head to the exam
2. At what age should I get a mammogram?

It depends on whether you are considered average risk or high risk.

A woman is considered to be at average risk if she doesn’t have a personal history of breast cancer, a strong family history of breast cancer, or a genetic mutation known to increase risk of breast cancer (e.g. the BRCA gene), and has not had chest radiation therapy before the age of 30). According to the American Cancer Society, women with average risk of breast cancer should follow the following guidelines:
  • Women between 40 and 44: can start screening with a mammogram every year
  • Women 45 to 54: should get mammograms every year
  • Women 55 and older: should get mammograms every other year, or can continue with yearly mammograms
    Women who are at high risk for breast cancer should get an MRI and a mammogram every year, starting at age 30. These are typically women who:
    • Have a family history of breast cancer
    • Have a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation (based on having had genetic testing)
    • Have a parent, brother, sister, or child with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, and have not had genetic testing themselves
    • Had radiation therapy to the chest between the ages of 10 and 30

      3. Someone close to me has breast cancer; how can I help them?

      Whether it is at the diagnosis, treatment or recovery stage, a good place to start is to spend time with your loved one and learn how cancer is affecting their everyday life. Observe how they respond to different activities and tailor your help accordingly. Be aware that the way they need help may change as their treatment progresses. Here's a LINK to a comprehensive list of ways to help.

      4. Does having dense breasts put me at higher risk of getting breast cancer?

      According to Mayo Clinic, having dense breast makes it harder for mammograms to detect breast cancer hence it may increase the risk of breast cancer. Women with dense breasts are advised to have:
      • a monthly breast self exam
      • a yearly breast exam by your doctor
      • a 3D mammogram every year starting at age 40

        5. What do I do if my mammogram results are abnormal?

        Follow Up Breast ExamAs anxious as you may feel following an abnormal mammogram, please do not panic. According to the American Cancer Society, 10% of women who have a mammogram will be called back for more tests. Of these, 8% to 10% will need a biopsy and 80% of these biopsies will turn out to be benign. These are encouraging statistics. If you do get a notification of an abnormal mammogram, schedule a follow up appointment with your doctor to better understand your test results. 

        The bottom line is that as individuals, we play the most important role in our health advocacy so let us embrace it. Stay vigilant.  

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