By Dr. Pablo Prichard
Each year, it is estimated that more than 250,000 women are diagnosed with an invasive form of breast cancer and another 60,000 people are diagnosed with a noninvasive form of breast cancer (DCIS), and that is just within the United States. While no one can prevent breast cancer, there are a few steps you can take to ensure your health and peace of mind. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and a great time to put these measures into practice.
It is highly encouraged that breast self-exams are performed at least once monthly. After all, you know your body best. These self-exams are important for familiarizing yourself with how your breasts look and feel, that way if there should be any changes, you will know what to tell your doctor. Around 40% of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who felt a lump during one of their self-examinations.
While these self-exams may not necessarily detect breast cancer, they play an important role in maintaining your overall health. You can perform them however you feel most comfortable, but it is recommended to check the entire breast and armpit area with varying degrees of pressure to feel out any lumps or hardened knots.
Lifting your arm in the shower or lying down with a pillow under your shoulder can give you the most efficient results. Exam should be performed when the breast is the most “quiet” from any inflammation related to your cycle. If you do find a lump, stay calm! Usually, about eight out of 10 lumps are noncancerous, but it is still important to schedule an appointment with your doctor to inspect further.
Schedule regular testing
Mammograms take a low-dose X-ray of the breast tissue and can be critical to the early detection and treatment of breast cancer, as it can see tiny white dots, or micro-calcifications, which can be a sign of breast cancer. It is recommended that women over the age of 40 get a mammogram once a year, and over 55 get one every two years under the supervision of their doctor. To make your appointment go smoothly, consider sending your FDA-approved mammogram center any previous mammograms you have had, and do not wear any deodorants, perfumes or lotions the day of your appointment. These may cause foreign particles to show up on the X-ray.
Mammograms do have their limitations, however. Younger women or women who still have estrogen present that stimulates the breast tissue have denser tissue, which can obscure architectural distortions, masses that alter how the normal breast tissue looks, when viewed with a mammogram. An ultrasound is a better tool for dense breasts and should be used in combination with mammograms for women under 40. A much newer technique employs quantitative transmission, also known as a QT ultrasound. This gives a much clearer view of dense breast tissue, and images look much like an MRI. Fortunately, there is a QT ultrasound machine serving Arizona at the Vincere Cancer Center in Scottsdale. The machine uses no compression of the breast or radiation and is better for seeing around breast implants.
Know that you are supported
Whether it be finding an abnormal lump during your monthly self-exam or waiting for results back from a mammogram/imaging or biopsy, this entire process can weigh heavily on your mind and the minds of your loved ones. Finding peace of mind and balance during this stressful time can be difficult, but it is essential. A few ways to cope include educating yourself, mapping out potential options, appreciating what is important to you and spending quality time with your loved ones. Take heart in the fact that only about 20% of breast tumors are cancerous and most are highly treatable. Breast cancer treatment options have come a long way and are continually improving as more and more effective technologies are being developed and perfected. Even breast reconstruction options have vastly grown in the past few years, with procedures varying from implants to using your own tissue. If it comes to pursuing breast reconstruction options, it is crucial to speak openly with your surgeon about your preferences and concerns. They will help you select the option best suited to your wants and needs.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month provides the perfect opportunity to take responsibility for your breast health, regardless of if you are just starting this journey or are continuing in your breast health maintenance. Utilizing appropriate resources, pursuing professional and self-guided care, and knowing the amount of support available throughout the process of maintaining breast health can quite literally save lives. I encourage you to use this month as a form of encouragement to take action and influence others to do the same.
Dr. Pablo Prichard is a board-certified plastic surgeon and former chief of plastic surgery at Honor John C. Lincoln Hospital for 14 years, medical director for plastic surgery and is senior partner at Advanced Aesthetics Associates. Prichard serves more than 2,000 patients every year and has specialized in reconstructive and cosmetic procedures. For more information, visit drprichard.com and follow on Instagram @pabloprichard.