Exams and mammograms promote the early detection of breast cancer
Editor’s note: October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. To honor this occasion and to help promote early detection and awareness, the women’s health care professionals at the Summit County Public Health Department have developed an overview of breast health for women.Breast cancer is second only to skin cancer as the most common cancer among women. More than 215,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2004; at least 40,000 of those women will die from the disease. The key to surviving breast cancer is early detection and treatment. According to the American Cancer Society, when breast cancer is confined to the breast, the five-year survival rate is close to 100 percent. There are three steps a woman can take to promote early detection of breast cancer: self breast exam, clinical breast exam, and mammography.Self Breast ExamBeginning at the age of 20, women should discuss the benefits of self breast exams with a health care provider. Previous guidelines suggested that women should perform monthly self breast exams; it is now acceptable for women to choose to perform self breast exams less frequently. However, performing self breast exams is one way for women to know how their breasts normally feel and to notice any changes. For this reason, Summit County Family Planning Nurse Practitioners continue to recommend monthly self breast exams. When a woman performs a self breast exam, it is important to remember that each woman’s breasts are different, and that changes can occur because of aging, the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, menopause or taking birth control pills or other hormones. It is normal for the breasts to feel a little lumpy and uneven, and breasts may be swollen or tender just before or during a woman’s menstrual period. A health care provider can instruct a woman regarding the proper technique for performing a self breast exam. If a woman notices any changes in the breast, she should promptly report to a health care provider. Clinical Breast Exam Beginning at age 20, every woman should schedule clinical breast exams with a health care provider at least every three years. After age 40, all women should have annual clinical breast exams. During a clinical breast exam, the health care provider examines the breasts while the woman is standing or sitting up and lying down. The health care provider looks for differences between the breasts, including unusual differences in size or shape. Using the pads of the fingers to feel for lumps, the health care provider checks the entire breast, the underarm and the collarbone area. A lump is generally the size of a pea before anyone can feel it. A thorough clinical breast exam may take 10 minutes. MammogramA mammogram is the best tool available for the early detection of breast cancer. Beginning at the age of 40, all women should have annual screening mammograms (pictures of the breast made with x-rays). Mammograms use very small doses of radiation. Women who are at higher than average risk for breast cancer should talk with their health care providers about whether to have mammograms before age 40. Screening mammograms can often show a breast lump before it can be felt. Summit County Family Planning, a division of Summit County Public Health, was recently awarded a grant from the Denver Metropolitan Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. The grant designates funds for the provision of free breast health care to qualifying women. Women who qualify may receive breast health education, clinical breast exams, and/or screening mammograms. For more information about free breast health services, call (970) 668-4189.
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