Local lifestyle columnists

Please don’t ignore your mammogram

By From page D4 | October 14, 2012

A mammogram is an easy test to ignore, especially when recommendations always seem to change. But consider this – you only have one opportunity to detect breast cancer at an early stage. Finding breast cancer before you have symptoms gives you the best chance of beating it.

The American Cancer Society recommends that women age 40 and older have a mammogram every year and should continue to do so for as long as they are in good health. Women who are at a higher risk for breast cancer need more aggressive screening as recommended by their physician.

Breast cancer is a malignant tumor that starts from cells of the breast. A malignant tumor is a group of cancer cells that may grow into (invade) surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to distant areas of the body.

A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. A screening mammogram looks for abnormalities in the tissue of the breast. A diagnostic mammogram is used to diagnose breast disease in women who have had an abnormal screening mammogram. Modern mammography equipment uses very low doses of radiation that doesn’t significantly increase the risk for breast cancer.

Having your previous mammograms available for the radiologist to compare is very important. Building your history of mammograms can reveal what has not changed for many years and what might need further evaluation.

A mammogram can’t prove that an abnormal area is cancer. Step two on the road to diagnosis is a biopsy – where a small amount of tissue is removed and looked at under a microscope.

Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam as part of a regular health exam, preferably every three years.

All women should perform a regular breast self-exam. Doesn’t it make sense to get to know your body in its normal state, so you can recognize changes as soon as possible? Many signs and symptoms of breast cancer can be detected through your own exam and observation. These include:

  • A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm that persists through the menstrual cycle.
  • A mass or lump, which may feel as small as a pea.
  • A change in the size, shape or contour of the breast
  • A clear fluid or bloody discharge from the nipple.
  • A change in the feel or appearance of the skin on the breast or nipple (dimpled, puckered, scaly or inflamed).
  • Redness on the skin on the breast or nipple.
  • An area that is distinctly different from any other area on either breast.
  • A marble-like hardened area under the skin.

Breast self-exams should be performed at the same time each month, three to five days after your menstrual period ends. Those who have stopped menstruating should perform the exam on the same day of each month.

Marilyn Ranson is a public relations specialist at NorthBay Healthcare in Fairfield, a member of the Solano Coalition for Better Health.

Marilyn Ranson


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