Women’s Health Week: Breast cancer primer
May 9-15 is National Women’s Health Week, a national effort by an alliance of government organizations to raise awareness about steps women can take to improve their health. In honor of National Women’s Health Week, the women’s health care professionals at the Summit Community Care Clinic 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 192,370 women in the United States were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2009; at least 40,170 of those women were estimated to die from the disease. In 2009, 1,910 cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to occur among men. In addition, approximately 440 men died from breast cancer. The key to surviving breast cancer is early detection and treatment.
There are three steps a woman can take to promote early detection of breast cancer: self breast exam, clinical breast exam, and mammography.
Beginning 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 Community Care Clinic continues 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.
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.
A 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. 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 Community Care Clinic was recently awarded a grant from the Susan G. Komen for the Cure 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.
Summit Community Care Clinic services include comprehensive well woman exams, Pap smears, contraceptive management, and STD testing and management. Fees for services are based on income according to a sliding scale. Unlike primary care services at Summit Community Care Clinic, anyone, regardless of income level can access women’s health services. To schedule an appointment, please call (970) 668-4040. For more information about free breast health services, please call Jenniffer at (970) 668-4057.
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