(Breast Cancer Prevention and Screening first appeared in the Public Opinion Newspaper in October 2014. To read it online, visit www.publicopiniononline.com.)
The National Cancer Institute estimates that 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer during her lifetime. Dr. Jennifer Fraley, ob/gyn at Keystone Women’s Care, discusses why it’s important to regularly check for breast cancer and where to go for help in this first of a two part series.
Once you have developed breast tissue, you should check your breasts every so often. Self breast exam (SBE) plays a role in diagnosing breast cancer. It is important that women do the exam in a way that is comfortable for them, so that they do not worry about whether they are using the correct ‘technique’. Frequently women do this once per month.
It is easiest to perform a self-exam while getting dressed or in the shower—just as long as it’s done once each month and in a comfortable way. Examining breasts involves looking as well as feeling, and women should look in a mirror to see any dimples or changes in the skin. The purpose is to familiarize oneself with their breast tissue so that if changes arise they will be noticed.
When a professional examines the breasts it is called a clinical breast exam. Women in their 20’s and 30’s should have these at least every 3 years and women in their 40’s should be examined yearly. These usually take place during a woman’s annual exam. It’s painless and doesn’t take long to perform. Your doctor will check your breast tissue—be aware that the breast tissue extends into the armpit.
No Family History, Take Note
If breast cancer doesn’t run in your family, you still need to check yourself regularly. Most breast cancers are not inherited but occur spontaneously. While the inherited forms may be scary as they affect very young women at times, they are not the cancers that affect the majority of women. It is important to follow the screening guidelines even if there has been no one in your family.
Call Your Doctor
It is very important to be familiar with how your own breast tissue feels, even if you don’t do self breast exams. Know if you have lumpy breasts, soft breasts, or firm dense breasts. You may be the first one to identify a problem because you notice something that does not feel right for you. If you have any concerns don’t wait. Call your doctor for a check – it just might save your life.