As we mature, we begin to appreciate our health that much more. Our bodies have grown with us through it all. In some cases, you can catch an issue before it becomes something more serious. That is why tests like breast cancer screenings are so vital to your continued health.
What is Breast Cancer Screening and Why Does It Matter?
Breast cancer screening is the screening of healthy, asymptomatic women for breast cancer at its early stage. The goal of breast cancer screening is to catch breast cancer as early as possible, as this is when it is most treatable. You do not need to have any symptoms, concerns, or family history of breast cancer to undergo a breast cancer screening.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. Breast cancer screening gives a woman the opportunity to catch her breast cancer in its early stages to ensure treatment is given when it is most effective.
How to Screen for Breast Cancer at Home
As women, we often neglect ourselves to put others first. It’s not uncommon to give the excuse that we are too busy to go in and get screened for breast cancer. The great news is that breast cancer screening can start in the comfort of your own home. It is done with a simple breast self-examination.
Home Breast Cancer Screening Steps
You can start doing a breast exam in the shower. Move around your breast on the pads of your fingers in a circular motion. Move from the outer areas toward the center—don’t forget your armpit area. If you notice any lumps or knots, let your OBGYN know.
The next part of your self-examination should be done in front of a mirror. Doing a breast exam in front of a mirror has some advantages. It allows you to visually evaluate any changes like swelling, dimpling, and differences in nipple appearance.
Begin with your arms at your side. Then, raise your arms up and look for any visual peculiarities. Next, put your hands on your hips and flex your chest muscles, again looking closely for any visual differences.
Lastly, examine your breasts lying down. Lying down spreads out the breast tissue, helping with the self-exam. Place a pillow under your right shoulder with your right hand placed behind your head. With your left hand, use the pads of your fingers to feel for any lumps and knots. Move your hand in a circular motion and ensure you cover the entire breast area. Squeeze the nipple with varying pressure to check for lumps or discharge. After this last step, your self-examination is complete.
Experts suggest performing a self-examination at least once a month at roughly the same time in your cycle. Schedule it in as a date with yourself and mark it on your calendar as a friendly reminder to get it done.
How Breast Cancer Screening is Done in Office
Even though breast cancer screenings can be done at home, it is important to still make time to be checked by your doctor regularly. Your doctor will also have access to tools that make for a much more effective screening process.
In a clinical breast examination, your doctor will examine your breasts by touch to look for any abnormalities. This clinical examination would also be a good time to bring up any concerns or changes with your doctor.
Your doctor may use other resources to evaluate your breast health, including a mammogram, an ultrasound, and an MRI.
Mammography is the X-ray screening of your breasts. A qualified technologist positions you through the mammogram by placing your breast on a platform. There will be a paddle that slowly comes down towards the platform, compressing your breast. This provides the images used to screen your breasts.
A breast ultrasound is quite a bit different from mammography. It uses sound waves to create images of your breasts. It is done by a radiologist or ultrasound technician using a clear gel and a transducer on your breasts. There are two major benefits to this. First, an ultrasound is better at “seeing” certain parts of the breast than mammography. It also helps to determine whether a breast lump is solid or fluid.
An MRI uses magnetic forces and radio frequencies to find abnormalities that are not found by mammography and ultrasound, as it produces very detailed pictures. It involves you lying face down on a platform, at which point an IV is put into your hand or arm. You are then placed into the MRI magnetic unit. Contrast material is injected through the IV line to help produce the images. An MRI is typically only done on women who are at high risk for breast cancer.
Benefits and Risks to Office Breast Cancer Screening
The benefit of in-office screenings is being evaluated by medical professionals who know exactly what to look for. Mammography, ultrasound, and MRI are all also useful tools in breast cancer screenings. However, there are risks associated with some of these screening tools.
Mammography, like all X-rays, exposes you to a small amount of radiation. There is a small chance that a false positive may occur. Women who are pregnant or may be pregnant should let their doctor or technologist know before the exam begins. An MRI comes with a slight risk of allergic reaction and may also produce false positive results. Ultrasounds come with little to no risk.
If breast cancer screening hasn’t been on your radar lately, you should make it a priority. Breast cancer screening is paramount to catching breast cancer early, and catching it early is key. If you’d like more information, please call our Wilmette or Glenview offices to schedule an appointment.