October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

By: Kaaren Olesen, DO

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, every two minutes a woman in the United States is diagnosed with breast cancer. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.

The 2017 Cancer in Iowa Report showed that breast cancer is the most common cancer in Iowa women, and accounts for 25 percent of all new cancers diagnosed in Iowa women every year.

Studies by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show that black women and white women get breast cancer at about the same rate, but black women die at a significantly higher rate than white women - 40% higher.

The higher rate of death is attributed to data indicating that breast cancer is found at an earlier stage among white women than among black women. Early detection is key to reducing racial disparities in breast cancer.

A breast self-exam (BSE) is a step-by-step approach an individual can use to look at and feel their breasts to check for anything abnormal. In the past it had been recommended that a woman conduct a BSE monthly but this is no longer recommended, as studies have shown BSEs don't offer any difference in breast cancer survival.

Although a monthly BSE is no longer recommended, it's important to always have breast awareness. You should become familiar with the way your breasts normally look and feel so you can notice a change.

Consult with your women’s health provider right away if you notice any changes in either breast including:

  • Lump, hard knot, or thickening inside the breast or underarm area

  • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening

  • Change in size or shape

  • 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

  • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly

  • Pain in one spot that does not go away

Keep in mind that these symptoms can happen with other conditions that are not cancer, and there is no such thing as a “normal breast”. What is normal for you may not be normal for someone else. The way your breasts look and feel can be affected by getting your period, having children, losing or gaining weight, and taking certain medications. Breasts also tend to change as you age. This is why consistent and ongoing breast awareness is important.

Mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms. Broadlawns Medical Center utilizes the most state of-the art screening and diagnostic tools available for early detection of breast cancer.

Recommendations are that women who are 40 to 70 years old and are at average risk for breast cancer get a mammogram every year. Most health insurance plans are required to cover mammograms with no out-of-pocket cost. There are also many programs in Polk County which cover the out-of-pocket cost of a mammogram if your insurance will not. Mammograms do not require a doctor’s referral. You are welcome to call Broadlawns Mammography at (515) 282-2309 to schedule an appointment or learn more.

Each mammogram may look a little different because all breasts are a little different, but all mammograms are relatively simple. Most patients find having a mammogram to be uncomfortable and some find it painful, but try to remember it takes just a few moments. Here are some tips to help make your mammogram more comfortable:

  • Try not to have your mammogram the week before you get your period or during your period.

  • On the day of your mammogram, don’t wear deodorant, perfume, or powder. These products can show up as white spots on the X-ray.

  • Wear a top with a skirt or pants, instead of a dress, to make undressing and dressing easier.

You will usually get the results of your mammogram within a few weeks. Keep in mind that an abnormal mammogram does not always mean that you have cancer, but you will likely need to have additional tests done.

There are many combinations of risk factors that are attributed to breast cancer. The top two risk factors you cannot control: being a woman and getting older. Other risk factors that you can’t control include inherited genes, reproductive history, having dense breasts, having non-cancerous breast diseases, or family history.

There are some risk factors you can control:

  • Not being physically active

  • Being overweight or obese after menopause

  • Taking hormones

  • Reproductive history, specifically having the first pregnancy after age 30 or not breastfeeding

  • Drinking alcohol

  • Smoking

Some women will get breast cancer even without any other risk factors that they know of. Having a risk factor does not mean you will get breast cancer, but they are important to be aware of and to continue to talk with your provider about.

At Broadlawns Medical Center, our women’s health team is committed to helping women of all ages receive the healthcare that they need at every stage of their lives. If you have questions about your breast health, or women’s health in general, we invite you to schedule an appointment at the Broadlawns OB/GYN Clinic by calling (515) 282-2340. All forms of insurance are accepted.