Posted on October 17, 2016
Fight the Good Fight: Schedule a Mammogram Today
In 1993, President Bill Clinton proclaimed the third Friday in October as National Mammography Day. On this day and throughout the entire month of October, women are encouraged to make a mammogram appointment with their health care provider.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Mammography can find 85 to 90% of breast cancers in women over 50 and can discover a lump several years before it can be felt. Mammography can detect small breast cancers at early stages—greatly improving chances for successful treatment and survival. Breast cancers found by screening mammography in women in their 40s are generally smaller and less advanced, with less spread to lymph nodes or other organs, than cancers found in women not having annual mammograms.”
Mammograms are crucial in the fight against breast cancer and should not be skipped. Still, women should be aware of changes to their breasts that could be signs of cancer.
Signs You Shouldn’t Ignore
Every woman should know the symptoms and signs of breast cancer, and any time an abnormality is discovered, it should be investigated by a healthcare professional. Most with breast cancer symptoms and signs will initially notice only one or two, and the presence of these symptoms and signs do not automatically mean you have breast cancer.
By performing monthly breast self-exams, you will be able to more easily identify any changes in your breast. Be sure to talk to your healthcare professional if you notice anything unusual.
A change in how the breast or nipple feels.
– Nipple tenderness or a lump or thickening in or near the breast or underarm area.
– A change in the skin texture or an enlargement of pores in the skin of the breast (some describe this as similar to an orange peel’s texture).
– A lump in the breast. (It’s important to remember that all lumps should be investigated by a healthcare professional, but not all lumps are cancerous.)
A change in appearance of the breast or nipple.
– Any unexplained change in the size or shape of the breast.
Dimpling anywhere on the breast.
– Unexplained swelling of the breast (especially if on one side only).
– Unexplained shrinkage of the breast (especially if on one side only).
– Recent asymmetry of the breasts. (Although it is common for women to have one breast that is slightly larger than the other, if the onset of asymmetry is recent, it should be checked.)
– Nipple that is turned slightly inward or inverted.
– Skin of the breast, areola, or nipple that becomes scaly, red, or swollen or may have ridges or pitting resembling the skin of an orange.
Any nipple discharge—particularly clear discharge or bloody discharge.
It is also important to note that a milky discharge that is present when a woman is not breastfeeding should be checked by a doctor, although it is not linked with breast cancer.
Any breast cancer symptom you notice should be investigated as soon as it’s discovered. If you have any of these symptoms, you should tell your healthcare provider so the problem can be diagnosed and treated.
Why You Need a Mammogram
Mammograms can often show a breast lump before it can be felt. They also can show tiny clusters of calcium called microcalcifications. Lumps or specks can be caused by cancer, fatty cells, or other conditions like cysts. Further tests are needed to find out if abnormal cells are present.
Recommendations for all women:
– Women 40 and older should have mammograms every one or two years.
– Women younger than 40 and have risk factors for breast cancer should ask their healthcare professional whether mammograms are advisable and how often to have them.
Even women who have no symptoms and no known risks for breast cancer should have regularly scheduled mammograms to help detect potential breast cancer at the earliest possible time.
What is a mammogram?
A mammogram is an X-ray that allows a qualified specialist to examine the breast tissue for any suspicious areas. The breast is exposed to a small dose of ionizing radiation that produces an image of the breast tissue.
Digital mammograms produce X-ray images just as traditional film mammograms do, except that the images are recorded, stored, and viewed on a computer, and the procedure exposes you to less radiation. A 2005 study showed they are significantly better at screening women who are under 50, pre- or peri-menopausal, and/or have dense breasts.
What Happens During a Mammogram
You will stand in front of a special X-ray machine. A technologist will place your breast on a clear plastic plate. Another plate will firmly press your breast from above. The plates will flatten the breast, holding it still while the X-ray is being taken. You will feel some pressure. The steps are repeated to make a side view of the breast. The other breast will be X-rayed in the same way. You will then wait while the technologist checks the four X-rays to make sure the pictures do not need to be re-done. Keep in mind that the technologist cannot tell you the results of your mammogram. Each woman’s mammogram may look a little different because all breasts are a little different.
What Does it Feel Like?
Having a mammogram is uncomfortable for most women. Some women find it painful. A mammogram takes only a few minutes, though, and the discomfort is over soon. What you feel depends on the skill of the technologist, the size of your breasts, and how much they need to be pressed. Your breasts may be more sensitive if you are about to get or have your period. A doctor with special training, called a radiologist, will read the mammogram. He or she will look at the X-ray for early signs of breast cancer or other problems.
Tips for getting a mammogram:
– Try not to have your mammogram the week before you get your period or during your period. Your breasts may be tender or swollen then.
– On the day of your mammogram, don’t wear deodorant, perfume, or powder. These products can show up as white spots on the X-ray.
– Some women prefer to wear a top with a skirt or pants, instead of a dress. You will need to undress from your waist up for the mammogram.
Reading the Results
A radiologist reads your mammogram and then reports the results to you or your doctor. If there’s a concern, you will hear from the mammography facility earlier. If the mammogram is normal you should continue to get mammograms according to recommended time intervals. Mammograms work best when they can be compared with previous ones. This allows the radiologist to compare them to look for changes in your breasts.
An abnormal mammogram does not always mean that there is cancer, but you will need to have additional mammograms, tests, or exams before the doctor can tell for sure. You may also be referred to a breast specialist or a surgeon. It does not necessarily mean you have cancer or need surgery. These doctors are experts in diagnosing breast problems. Doctors will do follow-up tests to diagnose breast cancer or to find that there is no cancer.
To schedule your mammogram, call Coastal Carolina Health Care’s Imaging Center at (252) 637-5480.
For more information on any type of cancer, contact the providers at CCHC New Bern Cancer Care by calling (252) 636-5135 or visiting www.newberncancercare.com. They understand every patient diagnosed with cancer or a blood disorder faces unique challenges and believe you deserve specialized care tailored to your individual needs. New Bern Cancer Care’s highly qualified, compassionate physicians will take time to explore treatment options, to answer your questions and to provide the information you and your family need to make important decisions about treatment.
(Sources: The National Breast Cancer Foundation; World Health Organization; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Cancer Institute; Health Magazine; and Niagara Falls Reporter.)