Breast screening is something that should be on every woman’s To Do list. In the event that cancer does start, catching it in its early stages is crucial. It’ll be easier to treat and less likely to result in death.
Here’s what you need to do:
Know thy breasts.
Breasts are naturally lumpy, and since hormones can affect your breasts during your menstrual cycle, it’s best to check at the same time each month. Otherwise, a “normal” lump, could cause you to worry for no reason.
Knowing your body, and what’s “normal” for YOU, is key. Routine checks will confirm this.
Tip: Keep a breast journal. Decide on a certain day(s) of the month to check your breasts, and then make a note of any changes you find. This will help pinpoint the start of any changes.
Emphasis on the word CHANGES. You are looking out for something that WASN’T there the last time you checked.
It could be:
- a lump
- changes to the skin on your areola (the dark area surrounding your nipple), your nipple or to your breast.
- Redness, heat, swelling, dimpling (like the skin of an orange) or scales
- Indentations, a bump, a growing vein
- a retracted nipple or nipple leakage
These are ALL potential abnormalities to be watchful for and issues you need to discuss with your doctor.
And by checking a couple of times in your cycle, you can determine what your normal is for those specific days.
Moles are different. They’re not cyclical, and so if you see one that wasn’t there before, it is certainly worth investigating… especially when it’s on your breast.
Abnormal moles are more likely to be a sign of skin cancer, than of breast cancer, but a trip to a dermatologist can tell you what it is.
They have a special instrument for looking at it, and if they believe it to be abnormal, they’ll remove it and perform a biopsy of it.
Tip: Have a photograph taken of your breasts. I had a mole on my breast that I “thought” had always been there. Looking back on some nudes I had taken years earlier, it confirmed that the mole was not there before.
You can’t always rely on your memory.
When things are slow growing, they can sneak up on you… without you even noticing.
Take pictures and keep them in your journal.
And remember that it’s not just your breasts you need to check, but the area under your armpit as well. That’s where your lymph nodes are located and you need to look there too.
Breast Screening via Breast Self-Examination
This is a safe and personally responsible approach to detecting abnormalities.
There are many guidelines, but most of them include using your fingers to feel each breast, one at a time… while lying down, while upright, and with your arm raised above your head. They also include looking at your breasts in a mirror.
If you don’t come across anything suspicious, or something that wasn’t there before, then you’re most likely fine. If you do find something, then you need to make an appointment with a doctor and see if he confirms your finding.
They’re performing essentially the same thing, but they have more experience doing it. In this case, it’s called a clinical breast examination. And you can ask for one every time you go in for a physical.
Breast Screening via Mammography
I personally disagree with the use and current mandate of regular mammograms.
Women over the age of 40 (or age 50, depending on where you live) are “encouraged”, if not frightened, into having routine mammograms.
In addition, during October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there are massive campaigns to promote this testing as a means of detecting cancer.
In my opinion, the focus should not be on detection, but on prevention.
Instead of being proactive about their breast health, women are relying on it for detection of cancer… after they already have it.
Mammograms don’t prevent cancer, nor are they the most effective means of detecting it. Mammograms are simply the most heavily promoted and sanctioned medical protocol for this.
Unfortunately, mammography is considered the gold standard in cancer detection, and because of this, women get a false sense of security from it.
But, a 25-year follow-up for breast cancer incidence and mortality, from the Canadian National Breast Screening Study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found that mammograms do not reduce death rates from breast cancer any more than detection by a clinical breast examination.
Furthermore, there are a lot of reasons why mammograms are not only unnecessary but harmful.
Breast compression, which happens during mammography, can actually make existing tumours spread… by causing them to rupture.
Mammography uses an X-ray for the procedure, which raises the issue of radiation exposure, which can increase your risk of breast cancer.
And small breasts, or dense breasts, are not ideal for this type of screening.
Then there is the chance of getting a false positive. This could lead to unnecessary stress, surgery, a mastectomy, or chemotherapy and radiation… all for nothing.
There is also the chance of getting a false negative. This would mean that the existing cancer goes undiagnosed.
Last but not least, is the fact that mammograms can be uncomfortable and even downright painful. Both of which would be acceptable if this type of testing was proven to be effective at reducing cancer rates… but it’s not.
Bottom line: Getting a mammogram should be a woman’s choice. And I believe that greater efforts should be made to help women make more informed decisions about the efficacy and risk factors of this type of screening.
Breast Screening with Magnetic Resonance Imaging
An MRI is not an X-ray, and it has a much better rate of providing an accurate diagnosis than mammography.
It’s better to have a previous baseline breast MRI before the age of 40, to assist in the detection of changes, but even if you don’t, it’s still an excellent screening tool.
Unfortunately, it’s not typically used for this purpose and can be hard to get because of that. And it’s very expensive.
Breast Screening using Thermography
Thermography is an excellent alternative breast screening tool.
It’s less expensive and much easier to have done than an MRI.
A thermography, or infrared imaging, is used to detect hot spots in your breasts.
Cancer requires a blood supply and nutrients to feed a tumour and the heat that is generated by this can be detected before a lump is even felt.
Furthermore, it’s a non-invasive and painless way to find cancer in the early stages. And it’s suitable for small or dense breasts… whereas mammography is not.
If something is detected, a biopsy (removal of tissue) will be done to determine cancer, regardless. The biopsy will either confirm or deny the diagnosis.
Bottom line: Do the best you can to take care of your health and do regular breast self-examinations, and/or clinical breast examinations, to be aware of any changes.
If you find them, seek advice, but don’t be bullied into any testing or procedures that are not in your best interest.
You need to be the advocate for your own health and do what is best for YOU!
The previous article focused on having healthy breasts via a healthy body. Be sure to start there!
Photo Credit: shutterstock.com/otnaydur