October is breast cancer awareness month. It’s a great time to go over a few common questions women have regarding breast health and breast cancer detection.
The first step in breast health is breast self-awareness, which means that you are aware of what is normal for your breast and can detect small changes. Self-detection results in almost one-half of all cases of breast cancer being found in women aged 50 years and older. A woman herself often finds breast cancer. In women younger than 50 years, more than 70% of breast cancer cases are self-detected.
Are there signs and symptoms related to breast cancer?
The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. A painless, hard mass with irregular edges is more likely to be cancer, but breast cancers can be tender, soft, or round. They can even be painful. For this reason, it’s essential to have any new breast mass, lump, or breast change checked by experienced healthcare professionals.
Other symptoms can include –
- Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no lump is detected).
- Skin dimpling (sometimes looking like an orange peel).
- Breast or nipple pain.
- Nipple retraction (turning inward).
- Nipple or breast skin that is red, dry, flaking, or thickened.
- Nipple discharge (other than breast milk).
- Swollen lymph nodes (sometimes breast cancer can spread to lymph nodes under the arm or around the collar bone and cause a lump or swelling there, even before the original tumor in the breast is large enough to be felt).
Should I have a clinical breast exam?
Yes! A healthcare provider should perform a clinical breast exam and can help find lumps that may need further testing and evaluation. The exam should be done every 1-3 years for women aged 25-39 and women aged 40 and older should have an exam every year.
How do I know I am at an average or higher risk for breast cancer?
A woman is considered at higher risk if there is a family history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, or other inherited types of cancer; BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations; chest radiation treatments at a young age; and history of high-risk breast biopsy results. Women without these risk factors are at average risk. If you meet the criteria for higher risk, you should speak with a healthcare professional to develop a plan that may include earlier mammograms and/or genetic testing.
When should I start having mammograms?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology recommends that a woman of average risk start at age 40 and have mammograms every 1-2 years. For more information regarding mammograms, click on the link in the reference section below or speak to your healthcare provider.
Early detection of breast cancer is an essential factor in survival rates. Having yearly wellness exams is a great way to stay on top of your health. We would love to answer any questions you have regarding breast health or any part of your wellbeing.
Crystal Kolling, FNP
Canyon View Family Medicine
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