October marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast Cancer knows no gender, and GHC-SCW wants you to be informed of the risks and methods you can use to monitor yourself for symptoms.
To understand more, we sat with Kristen Ruf, GHC-SCW Medical Imaging Manager and Dr. Kathryn Ledford to understand more about how you can self-check yourself for signs of breast cancer and information about the process of getting a mammogram.
How can I self-check for lumps or signs of breast cancer?
While current recommendations from the United States Preventive Service Task Force no longer recommend teaching a self-breast examination, they encourage awareness of one’s body and its changes. In my practice, I advise regular self-checks and “knowing your breasts,” as I believe my patients know their bodies better than any clinician. Use the finger pads of 3 fingers to apply gentle pressure in a circular motion around the breast – you can “scan” up and down or in a circular motion, so long as you are sure to check all parts of the breast, including under the areola and the armpit.
How often should I self-check for lumps?
There is no clear recommendation for the frequency of self-checks, and I recommend that my patients check “regularly” – consider monthly to one’s cycle or on the first of the month. If you have a menstrual cycle, check at different times to note the changes in your breasts based on your varying hormone levels throughout the month.
If I find a lump, what should I do?
Call your clinic. Your PCP may want a clinical breast exam or recommend you start with a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound.
When should I start getting mammograms?
The USPSTF recommends starting mammography screening at age 50 and every other year. This recommendation considers the pros and cons of screening, early detection, the possibility of false positives, and data from millions of people. That said, recommendations vary between clinical groups, and many still consider preventive screening reasonable for persons with breasts in their 40s. I always consider a patient’s personal history, family history, and preferences. I ask them to consider, “What will I do if I get called back for further evaluation?” “Will I feel better knowing I had the screening done?” “If I get a false positive scare, will I keep up with regular screening in the future?”
What is the process of a mammogram?
An order for a mammogram is placed by your PCP. You then call GHC Hatchery Hill to schedule your mammogram there. You will meet with a radiology technician who will perform the exam at the appointment. The mammogram is like an x-ray of your breast; you will need to undress (top only), and each breast will be examined. The radiation from a 3D (tomosynthesis) mammogram is comparable to having 2-3 chest x-rays.
If you see something on my mammogram, what are the next steps?
Mammograms are “graded” by the reading radiologist to determine the best next steps for evaluating any abnormalities seen on the mammogram. Possible next steps include ultrasound, repeat mammogram at a closer interval, and maybe even a biopsy. You will have clear guidance from the radiologist and your PCP to determine the next steps.