Last year, I received a call after my routine mammogram letting me know something looked suspicious and I would need to come back for a diagnostic mammogram and possibly an ultrasound. Breast cancer runs in my family, so hearing this news was a bit unsettling. After my diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound, it was determined that a biopsy was necessary. The unsettling feeling in the pit of my stomach grew.
My mind ping-ponged back and forth between I’m fine and what if it’s cancer? And after what felt like an eternity, I finally received the news. My biopsy results were clear. I didn’t have cancer. I was grateful, but also very aware in that moment that this isn’t the case for everybody.
My experience reinforced what I knew to be true: Keeping on top of breast health is extremely important and should not be neglected. Just like regular trips to the gynecologist aren’t on most peoples’ top ten list of things to do, they are necessary. For some, they are life-saving. And the same is true for mammograms.
With COVID-19 came some delays, and the thought of going into a doctor’s office for preventative breast cancer screenings and mammograms may not have been the most appealing. But breast cancer doesn’t wait for a pandemic, and with breast cancer being the leading cause of death in women, breast health is just as important now than it ever was.
Madeleine Rose, MD, FACOG, with Rose Gynecology in Cincinnati, has been practicing for 17 years. When asked about breath health, Rose emphasized both the importance of being familiar with what is normal for your breasts and regular trips to the doctor.
“It is important for women to have awareness of their breast health, as breast cancer is the number-one cancer that affects women, and the effects of breast cancer can be fatal if not taken care of in a timely manner,” Rose says. “It is important for a woman to educate themselves on breast self-exams, and perform them on a monthly basis. Women also need to be sure to see their gynecologist so that they can discuss proper breast care and the need for a breast exam, or other forms of evaluation.”
What are some of the things you should look for? While this question can be difficult to answer because there can be multiple warning signs, Rose recommends paying attention to any of the following: the appearance of a new lump that is felt on a breast exam, any nipple changes, as well as discharge from a single nipple. In addition, there are also some less common signs, like dimpling of the skin over a breast, or skin changes over a breast or nipple. Breast tenderness or pain can also be a less common sign. If there are any concerns or changes to a breast, that should alert a woman to be seen by a doctor.
In addition to self-awareness, regular screenings are also recommended. “The question of how often a woman should be screened for breast cancer depends on multiple factors, including age, personal history, family breast cancer history and if the patient is having any breast symptoms,” Rose says. “There are multiple guidelines from different medical organizations that vary in their recommendations as to how often a woman should have a mammogram. Different doctors will take these guidelines into consideration when making recommendations to women as to when they should have their mammogram.”
When talking about breast health, healthy lifestyle choices are important to discuss, as they are tangible things that women can do to help lower the risk of breast cancer, or other breast problems.
“There are multiple factors that will impact breast health,” Rose says. “Being overweight does increase your risk of breast cancer, as well as excessive drinking [more than 2 drinks per day, every day]. Family history can also increase your risk of breast cancer. Remember that 90% of breast cancers are sporadic and about 10% of breast cancers are estimated to be inherited. Moderate physical activity and eating a healthy diet can both decrease your risk of breast cancer.”
Self-awareness, regular check-ups, screenings, annual mammograms, healthy lifestyle choices and understanding your family history are all key factors in prevention and early detection of breast cancer. It’s up to you to take initiative when it comes to your health, and breast health is no exception. So check your calendar, and if it’s time, make that call to schedule your appointment today.