It’s hard to believe that one little test could save a life, but when it comes to breast cancer it’s more than true, it’s essential. However, this isn’t a test that one studies for and hopes for a good grade, it’s one that requires knowing a persons own body.
“What I tell my patients is that they need to become familiar with the anatomy of their breasts,” says Carol Berger, DNP, APRN, FNP-C. “This way they can distinguish whether or not something may be wrong or different from the last time they did this.”
Dr. Berger states that as months go on, changes occur in women where they may feel lumps or bumps that come up or down based on the cycle the woman may be in.
“That’s why it’s important to become familiar with your body and the cycles it goes through,” she said. “And it’s something a woman can do in the shower, in privacy, just to see if something feels off or something that may make them want to schedule a mammogram appointment.”
Mammography is the process of using low-energy X-rays to examine the human breast and is used as a diagnostic and a screening tool. The goal of mammography is the early detection of breast cancer, typically through detection of characteristic masses and/or microcalcifications.
According to Dr. Berger, woman over the age of 60 are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer then say that of a 35-year-old. In fact there are only a small percentage of breast cancer victims under the age of 45. She went on to explain how a family history of breast cancer, especially woman with sisters, mothers or even daughters that had or has been diagnosed are even more at risk.
“Some inherited genetic mutations may increase a woman’s risks of having or getting breast cancer,” said Dr. Berger. “Gene testing can best reveal the presence of potential genetic issues, especially in families who already have a history of breast cancer.”
Mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are the most common inherited causes.
“Understand, having one or even several breast cancer risk factors, does not necessarily mean you’ll develop breast cancer,” explained Dr. Berger.
According to her there are several things doctors ask when trying to determine if a woman is high risk, low risk or moderate risk. Questions such as how old they were when they started their period? How many children did they have? When was the first one born? Did they breast feed? For how long? And several other personal questions.
“But it is for all these reasons as to why it is so important to get regular mammogram checkups,” said Dr. Berger.
However, there is a great deal of controversy as to when a woman should begin getting her scheduled mammogram. Although, it’s a good idea to at least do a monthly self exam, at least, once a month or so.
“The earlier breast cancer is found, the better and sooner something could be done,” said Dr. Berger. “That’s why it’s important to do self-breast exams. Make it a part of your monthly health care routine.”
According to the National Foundation of Breast Cancer there are several ways a woman can give herself a self-breast exam: When doing a self exam in the shower use the pads of your fingers, move around your entire breast in a circular pattern moving from the outside to the center, checking the entire breast and armpit area. Check both breasts each month feeling for any lump, thickening, or hardened knot. Notice any changes and get lumps evaluated by your healthcare provider.
When in front of a mirror, visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead. Look for any changes in the contour, any swelling, or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples. Next, rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Left and right breasts will not exactly match—few women’s breasts do, so look for any dimpling, puckering, or changes, particularly on one side.
When lying down the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions covering the entire breast area and armpit. Use light, medium, and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for your left breast.
Dr. Berger said she doesn’t just know about the affects of breast cancer because of her profession, but on a personal level, as her mom was also diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Things change, people change and there are no guarantees,” explained Dr. Berger. “You just never know when doing something as simple as a self breast exam could save your life or the life of someone you love.”
She went on to add that although changes occur and depending on when a person is menstruating or whatever the case may be, it’s always best to call their doctor if they are uncertain about something going on.
“I would rather see a person too much and find nothing, than seeing a person who had questions and never asked until it was too late,” said Dr. Berger.