October is breast cancer awareness month. Did you know that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime? Men can be victims of breast cancer, also, and it is estimated that 530 men in the United States will die from breast cancer in 2023. Early detection is key and the 5-year survival rate for localized breast cancer is 99%!
The American Cancer Society recommends annual breast cancer screenings beginning at the age of 45, and the option to start at 40.
"I'm turning 40, and I have no idea what to expect," you're probably thinking.
Well, mammogram is a type of an x-ray that is performed to take images of breast tissue by compressing the breast tissue a few times for the best image. Even though these images can take less than 20 minutes, some women do experience discomfort with the compressing of breast tissue. It is best to schedule a mammogram after your menstrual cycle, so there is not as much discomfort. You will need to remove your bra & shirt for the images. The results are read by a radiologist and sent to your primary provider within 7-10 days.
"I hear the mammogram is so uncomfortable; isn't there another way?"
This is another common question, I receive in the primary care setting. Often times, my patients do not want to get a mammogram because of they had a terrible experience. There are other options available, such as a 3D mammogram, which is where the machine moves around you. Often times it is not. covered by typical insurance companies, so you might have a copay. You can use your HSA/FSA funds to pay for this.
"I'm scared it will be abnormal."
If your mammogram is abnormal, you will be referred for an ultrasound. An ultrasound can help detect nodules/lumps/bumps with more accuracy. The goal of the ultrasound is to detect size and shape of the abnormality. Depending on the size, the radiologist will recommend continued monitoring with repeat ultrasound and mammograms in a few months or a biopsy. Remember, early detection is key!
"I have a family history of breast cancer. How can I get tested?"
Your primary care provider can order genetic testing or refer you to a geneticist for a workup.
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are the most common inherited genes to cause breast cancer, but there are others. It is especially important to get genetic testing and begin early screenings if you have a first-degree relative (male or female) with breast cancer.
"How can I decrease my risk for breast cancer?"
Drinking alcohol is linked to an increased risk for breast cancer, even if it's one drink per day. Being overweight or obese increase the risk for breast cancer, along with a sedentary lifestyle. One should strive for 150-300minutes of moderate intensity activity per week. Other recommendations can be found here.
"I perform monthly self-breast exams, and don't feel anything. Do I really need a mammogram?"
Short answer is YES! Mammograms can detect lumps/tumors before they are felt. If you feel a lump, don't wait to schedule an appointment with your provider.
"Do I even need to perform a monthly breast exam?"
Yup! Getting to know your body is another way of detecting abnormalities early. You should perform a monthly self-breast exam on the same day each month. An exam should be performed while standing and lying down, and you should feel the breast tissue from the armpit to the areola with the opposite 3 fingers with light, medium, and deep pressure.
Did you know that you can call the American Cancer Society at 800-227-2345 to find programs near you for low-cost of free mammogram options? What are you waiting for? Get your mammogram scheduled today.