Each year in October our team at Premier Medical Group works to raise awareness about breast cancer, one of the most prevalent cancers in women. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the second most common cancer among women in the U.S. is breast cancer, with about 240,000 cases of breast cancer being diagnosed in women and about 2,100 in men each year.
The American Cancer Society and many organizations across the nation recognize October as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As such, we can move forward the conversation about this disease, with the goal of helping more women know what to expect and how to get treated sooner.
What is Breast Cancer?
Cancer is a disease that occurs when cells within the body grow in an uncontrollable way and begin to spread, affecting other parts of the body. In the case of breast cancer, these malignant cells can affect the three main parts of the breast: lobules, ducts, and connective tissue.
The lobules are where milk can be produced while the ducts are the part of the breast that allows milk to travel to the nipples. The connective tissues hold together the lobules and ducts while giving shape to the breasts.
When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body through blood vessels and lymph vessels, doctors identify this stage as metastasis. With the cancer having metastasized, it can affect even more parts of the body and lead to potentially fatal outcomes. This is why it is extremely vital that women, in particular, and men also get tested for cancer as early as is necessary. For men in the U.S., since breast cancer is much more rare with only about 1% of breast cancer diagnoses affecting men*, an early test for breast cancer is often only recommended if a doctor deems it necessary because the patient is at risk.
For women, on the other hand, mammograms are often recommended as they get older. But when exactly would women start getting mammograms and what can they expect?
When Should Women Start Getting Mammograms?
Mammograms are x-ray pictures of the breasts. This is currently the best way for doctors to detect signs of breast cancer and doctors recommend that women begin getting mammograms at 40 years old. Specific recommendations from the American Cancer Society for when women can begin breast cancer screening include the following:
- For women between 40 and 44, mammogram once per year is recommended as an option.
- Women 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
- For women 55 and older, consider having a mammogram every other year, or you can choose to continue yearly mammograms.
- All women should understand what to expect when getting a mammogram for breast cancer screening.
The individual who does the mammogram is called a mammographer. These are board-certified technologists trained to capture x-ray images with very minimum radiation exposure.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 1 in 8 women will get cancer in their lifetime**. For this reason, early detection is essential. Mammograms can serve to benefit a significant number of women, providing them with an opportunity to get treatment before cancer progresses and metastasizes, affecting other parts of the body.
How to Make Your Mammogram More Comfortable
Since many women report that mammograms are uncomfortable or even painful, it’s important to prepare for your mammogram. Know what to expect, especially if it’s your first time. Note that a special x-ray machine will be used during the mammogram process. The technologist assisting during the x-ray places the breast on a plastic plate, doing one first and then the next. After this, another plate will press your breast from above, holding it in place so that the x-ray machine can capture the image of your breast.
To improve your experience and minimize discomfort, consider the following tips:
- Where possible, consider your period when scheduling a mammogram. For women not yet affected by menopause, avoid having your mammogram the week during your period or the week before your period begins. Your breasts may likely be more tender or swollen than usual during those times.
- On the day of your mammogram, avoid wearing powder, deodorant or perfume since these products can show up as white spots on the X-ray.
- Wear comfortable clothes on the day of your mammogram. Since women typically need to undress from waist up for the mammogram, some prefer wearing a top with a skirt or pants, instead of a dress.
- Don’t get anxious to hear your results immediately. Women who are new to having mammograms may expect to hear results during the cancer screening. Know that the individual assisting you in taking x-ray images of your breasts, the mammographer, is trained to take the x-ray images but will not interpret them. The radiologist, instead, will interpret the results and relay these results to your doctor.
What Can You Do to Lessen Your Risk?
Like many diseases, cancer isn’t entirely preventable. Several factors over the course of your lifetime can affect your risk of developing breast cancer. Thankfully, there are some factors individuals can control to help lower their risks. These, of course, often include many of the healthy lifestyle habits doctors at Premier Medical Group encourage all patients to apply in their lives, regardless of a patient’s age or family history.
Tips for lessening your risk of breast cancer include the following:
- Eat healthy. This typically means eating less processed foods and eating instead a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and legumes.
- Keep a healthy weight. A healthy weight could help lower your risk for cancers, including breast cancer. Consider discussing weight concerns with your primary care provider and weigh what options can help you improve.
- Be physically active. Physical activity can rejuvenate your body and mind. Consider small steps you can make to be more active and healthy each day.
- Choose not to drink alcohol, or drink alcohol in moderation. Discuss concerns about alcohol consumption with your doctor to see what may be the best approach for you.
- Ask your doctor about risks if you are taking, or have been advised to take, hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives.
At Premier Medical Group, we want you to stay healthy and reduce your risk. Remember that regardless of your risk level, early detection is key when it comes to breast cancer. If you have a family history of breast cancer, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor now or reach out to a member of our team to consider how to access quality care. Call 1-888-632-6099 to make an appointment today.