October is breast cancer awareness month and here at Folsom Ob/Gyn we are committed to helping women understand their risks and stay on top of screening and detection. Here’s a few questions we get asked on a regular basis in the clinic.
Should I be doing breast self-exam?
Yes! About half of breast cancers are detected by women who noticed a new lump or changes in their breast tissue. It’s always a good idea to be familiar with your body, so you know what is normal for you and what isn’t. Breast self-exam should be done once a month, after your menstrual period (or pick another monthly marker if you are past menopause..credit card bill due? Time for breast self-exam!). Here’s a video to help you get started: http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-self-exam
Do I really need to start mammograms at age 40?
When to begin mammography screening and how often to repeat it is a personal decision based on your preferences. Your doctor can explain the benefits, risks and limitations of mammograms and then you can decide together what is best. Not all organizations agree on breast cancer screening guidelines, but most emphasize working with your doctor to determine what’s right for your particular situation. The American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology recommends “women at average risk of breast cancer should be offered screening mammography starting at age 40 years. If they have not initiated screening in their 40s, they should begin screening mammography by no later than age 50 years.”
I have breast implants, does this change anything about screening for breast cancer?
Women with breast implants should follow all the same guidelines and start mammograms at between the ages of 40 to 50. You should pay attention to how your breasts look and feel, and be aware of changes in the tissue. Because of how the implants affect the mammogram images, you might need to have extra images taken. You should have a mammogram before and within 1 year of your implant surgery to serve as a baseline test. And don’t worry, it’s very rare for there to be any damage to the implants during a mammogram – the benefits far outweigh the risks.
Should I be tested for genetic breast cancer?
Most women who develop breast cancer have no family history of the disease. At this time, we know of a few genes that are very strongly linked to increased risk of breast cancer (BRCA for example) and these are estimated to account for 1 out of every 10 cases of breast cancer. If you have relatives in your family who have had cancer, find out as much information as you can such as their age when they were diagnosed, what type of cancer they had, and if they had any genetic testing. Then talk to your doctor and if needed, they can refer you to a genetic counselor who is a specialist in the types of testing available. This website http://www.facingourrisk.org/ is a great place to start learning about hereditary cancers of all types.
What can I do to reduce my risk of breast cancer?
-Limit alcohol to no more than 1 drink per day
-Avoid smoking, and if you do smoke, quit as soon as possible
-Maintain a healthy weight, especially after menopause
-If you have a baby, breastfeed for at least 6 months, longer if possible
-Talk to your doctor about your health history and personal risk factors to come up with a screening plan, and follow up as needed
Haven’t seen your Ob/Gyn recently? Make your annual appointment and have all your breast health questions answered in person!