What you should know about breast cancer and screenings

Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer for women. The National Breast Cancer Foundation found that one in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. When it comes to breast cancer diagnoses and treatments, there are still inequalities. Cancer researchers report that Black women’s breast cancer death rate is 40% higher than that of white women. Breast cancer is also the leading type of cancer death for Latin women and nearly half of women without insurance delayed care or went without it because of the cost. 

Why should you have regular breast health screenings?

Getting breast cancer health screenings can help find the disease before symptoms are noticeable. Early detection and treatment are two of the most important ways to prevent death from breast cancer. Going for your yearly mammogram is helpful for early detection. In an annual woman’s physical, many physicians will check your breast for lumps which could indicate cancer. They may also perform a mammogram. Mammogram machines take low-radiation x-rays of the breasts and can typically find changes that could be cancer before symptoms can occur. While mammograms are not always 100% accurate, they are a good practice to adopt. Talk with your doctor about when you should start getting an annual mammogram – general recommendations say you should get your first mammogram at 40, but your health and family history may cause you to start earlier. 

What can you do to screen at home?

While medical professionals can perform a clinical breast exam by feeling for irregularities in breast tissue, women can also do this at home with self-examinations. Women are very familiar with how their breasts look and feel, so they might be able to detect any changes and alert their doctor or go in for a mammogram. At home, women should see if there are any changes in the way breasts look from discolorations to changes in shapes and sizes (example: skin puckering, skin dimpling, visible distortions or swelling). Women can also feel their breast tissue while lying down and standing up for any lumps. It’s important to remember that at-home screenings should not replace routine medical care like mammograms. 

An important note: If you notice any of the following symptoms, call the Wellness and Stress Clinic. We can refer you to a health care provider for a mammogram and an examination:

  • Lump or hard knot inside the breast or under the armpit area.
  • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast.
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin.
  • Itchy, scaly, sore or rash on the nipple.
  • Pulling in of the nipple or other parts of the breast.
  • Nipple discharge, especially if it begins suddenly.
  • New pain in one spot of the breast that does not go away.

Why should I know my family history?

Knowing your family history is important. If you have close relatives who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, your chances of developing the disease are higher. Women with a family history of breast cancer should attend all yearly screenings. People can also make lifestyle choices that help keep risks low: not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, eating nutritious food, limiting alcohol consumption and adding regular exercise into routines. Higher risk women should also talk to their doctors about increasing the need for breast cancer screenings. 

The Wellness and Stress Clinic is here to help ease the disparities in health care. We’re not just here for your primary health needs. We also offer mammograms on specified nights to help make sure everyone gets the care they need. Give us a call to schedule your appointment.