Breast Health 101

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Early detection and general good health is the best defense against breast cancer. The Breast Diagnostic Center at Clear Lake Regional Medical Center encourages women to act on all the types of screening available. Screening helps find breast cancer early when successful treatment is much greater. The three types of screening are: self-exams, annual office exams and mammograms

Breast Self Exam

The first line of defense in early detection is you. That is why it is important for you to be familiar with your breasts through monthly self-exams. However, breast self-exams (BSE) should not replace a clinical exam by your doctor during your annual physical or a mammogram at the time your doctor recommends.

While you may be unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the process at first, the more often you conduct a BSE, the more familiar and at ease you will be. Get to know how your breasts look and feel – knowing what looks and feels normal for you will help you recognize changes in your breasts. If you note any of the following, contact your doctor:

  • Lump, hard knot or thickening
  • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast skin
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
  • Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
  • Sudden nipple discharge
  • New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away

Remind yourself to perform your monthly breast self-exam by downloading this information sheet

Clinical Breast Exam

Your regular physician should conduct what is called a clinical breast exam (CBE) as part of your regular medical checkup. During the exam a doctor, nurse, nurse practitioner or other trained medical staff will evaluate both breasts and underarms. They will check your breasts, looking and feeling for any abnormalities, including changes in size and shape, changes in the skin and lumps.

Women should start getting CBEs at age 20 at least every three years as part of their routine breast cancer screening strategy. Starting at age 40, women should have a CBE by a health professional every year.

Even when you begin having mammograms, it’s important to continue receiving CBEs from your physician.

Mammogram Recommendations

A screening mammogram is very important in the overall health of your breasts. In conjunction with the American Cancer Society guidelines, we recommend the following:

  • Women age 40 and older should have a mammogram every year and should continue to do so for as long as they are in good health.
  • Women at high risk (greater than 20% lifetime risk) should get an MRI and a mammogram every year.
  • Women at moderately increased risk (15% to 20% lifetime risk) should have regular mammograms with additional imaging as recommended by the radiologist.
  • Yearly MRI screening is not recommended for women whose lifetime risk of breast cancer is less than 15%.

Women at high risk include those who:

  • Have a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
  • Have a first-degree relative (parent, brother, sister, or child) with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, and have not had genetic testing themselves
  • Have a lifetime risk of breast cancer of 20% to 25% or greater, according to risk assessment tools that are based mainly on family history
  • Had radiation therapy to the chest when they were between the ages of 10 and 30 years
  • Have Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Cowden syndrome, or hereditary diffuse gastric cancer syndrome, or have one of these syndromes in first-degree relatives

Women at moderately increased risk include those who

  • Have a lifetime risk of breast cancer of 15% to 20%, according to risk assessment tools that are based mainly on family history
  • Have a personal history of breast cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), atypical ductal hyperplasia (ADH), or atypical lobular hyperplasia (ALH)
  • Have extremely dense breasts or unevenly dense breasts when viewed by mammograms

Learn more about the difference between a screening mammogram and a diagnostic mammogram.

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