October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a great time to learn more about breast cancer and how to detect it early. Approximately one in eight women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their lifetime, so it’s an important health issue all women face.
A mammogram is known as the “gold standard” in breast cancer detection. You should talk to your health care provider about the best age to begin these preventative screenings if you haven’t already. The answer depends on several risk factors including your family history. Don’t put off getting a mammogram because of the cost. Most health insurance plans are required to cover mammograms every one to two years at no out-of-pocket cost to you.
Many women also find that breast self-exams are an important way to detect breast cancer. The exams can help you become familiar with how your breasts look and feel so you can alert a healthcare professional if there are any changes that occur. You can learn the specifics of giving yourself a breast self-examination at this web page.
While many breast cancers are invisible and can’t be detected without professional screening, some women detect their breast cancers through a self-exam. This is why establishing a regular routine for breast self-exams can be important for your health. A self-exam does not replace the need for screening mammograms and clinical breast examinations by a physician.
Here are some key warning signs of breast cancer to be aware of:
- A new lump in the breast or underarm area
- Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
- Irritation or dimpling of breast skin or the nipple
- New unexplained redness or thickening of the breast skin
- Changes to the nipple including: skin thickening, irritation, pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area
- Any change in the size or the shape of the breast
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood
Note that many women find that their breasts become more lumpy and tender to the touch before their period. So it’s a good idea to schedule your self-exam three to five days after your period ends. Breasts also change in size and shape as you age or undergo pregnancy and changes in your weight. Keep in mind that most breast lumps and pain found on self-exams are not breast cancer. However, if you suspect something has changed with your breasts, you need to contact your doctor or other health professional to know for sure. Remember that a breast self-exam is not a substitute for regular breast examinations provided by your doctor and screening mammograms.
This online brochure provided by the National Cancer Institute can help you learn more about breast changes and breast cancer: