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Celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month By Taking Control of Your Breast Health


October is upon us. Pink is in the air. Breast cancer awareness month has begun. What does it all mean?

Do you know anyone who has had breast cancer? Chances are you do. There are more than 3.1 million breast cancer survivors in the United States, and the American Cancer Society estimates there will be about 310,000 new cases of breast cancer in women this year. And we can’t forget that men get breast cancer, too. About 2,500 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017. With numbers that large, and the projection that more than 40,000 women will die from breast cancer, it can all seem very overwhelming.

So how do we make a difference? Screening for breast cancer starts with YOU. Get your mammogram then tell a friend to get hers, too. Last year, nearly 15,000 screening mammograms were performed at CaroMont Health, and we can always do more!

There are many excuses for skipping that mammogram appointment. As a working mother, I understand that it’s easy to get busy with the million other things we have to do for everyone else. But on average, a screening mammogram takes our technologists just six minutes. Surely, you have six minutes to do something for yourself…and your family.

So when should you start? There is some debate about when women should begin mammograms. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network and the American College of Radiology recommend routine mammograms starting at age 40, but other organizations recommend different screening schedules. These recommendations are for women who are at “normal” risk. Some women may need more frequent or different types of screening examinations because they deemed “high risk.” Examples of those patients at higher risk include those who:

-carry breast cancer genes mutations

-have had radiation to the chest

-have an extensive family history of cancer such as breast cancer, as well as certain other cancers

-have certain non-cancerous pathology on a breast biopsy, such as atypical hyperplasia

-have a personal history of breast cancer

There are also discussions about when to stop screening. In my practice, I base this on a patient’s health, not her numerical age. Age is not just a number! There are some very healthy ladies in their 80s and even 90s running around Gaston County! In my opinion, a patient deserves the opportunity to maintain their health as long as possible. Be sure to initiate a discussion with your healthcare provider as to when to start and stop your screening. And know that there are ways for us to help you get a mammogram if you lack health care insurance or the ability to pay for a mammogram.

Although mammograms are a good test, they are not always perfect. Some breast cancers don’t show up on mammograms because they are the same density as the surrounding breast tissue. This is particularly troublesome in women with a lot of dense breast tissue. Dense breast tissue is very common in young women, but can also persist in some women as they get older. Dense tissue is white on a mammogram. Since breast cancer is also white on a mammogram, the dense tissue can camouflage the cancer. A newer type of mammogram called tomosynthesis, or 3-D mammography, has the ability to help radiologists find more cancers that may be hidden in the dense tissue on a regular mammogram. Other modalities such as ultrasound and MRI may also be used for breast imaging. I always stress that if you feel a mass in your breast, but your mammogram is normal, go get checked by your health care provider. One of the other imaging tests or a biopsy may be needed despite a normal mammogram.

Being AWARE of your body is also important. Routinely looking and feeling for changes in your breast is a good thing. I can’t tell you how many times I have cared for patients who have found their own cancers just a few months after normal imaging - because, remember, mammograms don’t find all cancers. Don’t assume everything is ok. Let your health care provider know if things just aren’t quite right. Advocate for yourself. Also, never let lack of insurance be a reason that you don’t receive a mammogram. There are ways for you to receive a mammogram, even if you lack health insurance or the ability to pay.

In the end, prevention and early detection are critical in the fight against breast cancer. In honor of those we celebrate and remember this month, take control of your health and don’t let it end on October 31.

Categories: Physician's Blog