Last week, actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus announced she has breast cancer in a post on her official Twitter account saying, “1 in 8 women get breast cancer. Today, I’m the one”.
According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, one in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetimes. While we have made significant strides in breast cancer treatment options, the safest way to protect yourself from this deadly disease is through awareness and early detection. As we spend the month of October wearing pink ribbons and reflecting on those we’ve lost, and those who have persevered, take the time to familiarize yourself with the latest breast cancer screening guidelines. By following a regular routine of administering self-exams, and receiving recommended screenings from your OBGYN, you will put yourself in the best position to help us continue the fight against breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines
According to the American Cancer Society, the frequency with which women should obtain a breast cancer screenings from their OBGYN is dependent upon age. More specifically:
- Women ages 40 to 44 are recommended to receive a mammogram annually if desired.
- Women ages 45 to 54 are recommended to receive a mammogram annually.
- Women 55 and older are recommended to receive a mammogram every two years but may continue to receive annual screenings if desired.
In addition to mammography screenings, women should also perform routine self-breast exams. Regular self-examinations help women ensure they are familiar with their breasts so that if any abnormality develops, they can identify the change and make an appointment to be examined by a doctor.
Women with a personal, or a family history of breast cancer are recommended to receive more frequent screenings. If your mother, sister(s), or grandmother(s) have been diagnosed with breast cancer, talk to your OBGYN. He/she will help you determine when to start receiving regular mammography screenings, and whether or not an MRI is also advisable to test for abnormalities.
Other Risk Factors
In addition to your family history, your doctor will need to have an understanding of other factors that could increase your risk of breast cancer and that may impact when you should begin receiving breast cancer screenings, and with what frequency. Such risk factors may include:
- Your age. A woman’s risk of a breast cancer diagnosis increases with age, particularly up until age 50.
- Childbearing history. The older a woman is when she has her first child, the greater her risk of developing breast cancer in her lifetime. Women who never have children are also at a greater risk of developing breast cancer.
- Menstruation history. Women are at a higher risk of breast cancer if they menstruated for the first time before age 12 or if they go through menopause after age 55.
- Genetic factors. Women with a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding your personal risk of breast cancer, talk to your OBGYN. He or she will be able to discuss your personal risk factors and will help you to determine a routine screening frequency plan that is right for you.
Americans across the country have embraced October as Breast Cancer Awareness month. Many of us spend the month of October wearing pink bracelets, signing-up for 5K runs, and watching professional athletes incorporate pink gear into their uniforms. Our heightened level of awareness and consideration of breast cancer and research funding is essential to finding a cure, but how many of us spend time in October considering our own health and potential risk for being diagnosed with the disease? This October, continue to wear your pink accessories and donate to your local fundraisers, but in honor of breast cancer awareness month, learn the warning signs and symptoms of breast cancer so that you can remain healthy too.
Signs and Symptoms
Thanks to advances in mammography screenings, most breast cancers in the United States are identified at an early stage before symptoms are visible. Still, not all cases of breast cancer are identified through mammograms, which is why it is important to understand the warning signs so that care can be sought as soon as possible. While symptoms can vary among women, the most common signs include:
- A lump, hard knot, or thickening inside the breast or underarm area.
- Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast.
- Isolated pain in the breast that does not go away.
- A change in the size or shape of the breast.
- A dimpling or puckering of the skin of the breast.
- A suddenly appearing nipple discharge, or a liquid leaking from your nipple, especially if it appears only in one breast, when no squeezing or pressure is applied to the breast, or if the discharge is bloody or clear, rather than milky.
- Itchy, scaly, or sore skin on the nipple, or a nipple rash.
- Pulling in of the nipple or other breast skin.
When conducting a self-breast exam, pay special attention to the presence of lumps or bumps, but understand that breast tissue is naturally textured, and some women’s breasts have more naturally occurring bumps than others. Look for an even and consistent amount of lumpiness throughout both breasts to determine if what you are feeling is your normal breast tissue, or something you should question. If you do find one isolated area with a solid, hard lump, take note and speak with your OBGYN or primary care doctor. By conducting routine exams on a monthly basis, you will be more in tune with your body in case you have a sudden, newly appearing lump that may be of concern.
When to Seek Care
Contact your OBGYN or primary care doctor if:
- You identify a lump that was not present during your prior month’s self exam or that you know is newly developed.
- You find a lump or a bumpy area on one breast that does not feel similar to your other breast.
- You find a lump or bumpy area on one breast that does not feel similar to the rest of the tissue on that same breast.
It is always in your best interest to seek guidance from a health care professional if you have any concerns about the signs or symptoms listed above. While your OBGYN may tell you that what you’ve found is normal, or that it is a benign breast condition such as a cyst or fibroadenoma, having the peace of mind of knowing that you are healthy will be well worth the exam.