According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. It’s an alarming statistic, but a more encouraging statistic is that when breast cancer is detected early, and is in the localized stage, the 5-year survival rate is nearly 100%.
Adult women of all ages are encouraged to perform breast self-exams at least once a month. While mammograms can help you to detect cancer before you can feel a lump, breast self-exams help you to be familiar with how your breasts look and feel so you can alert your doctor if there are any changes.
Dr. Jessica L. Vinsant, MD, a General Surgeon with Premier Surgical Associates’ Tennova North Knoxville office, says, “Women know their breasts better than a doctor who sees them once or twice a year. It’s important that they take a proactive role with self exams and call their doctor if they notice something that has changed.”
How To Do A Self Exam
Using the pads of your fingers, move around your entire breast in a circular pattern moving from the outside to the center, checking the entire breast and armpit area. Check both breasts each month feeling for any lumps, thickening, or a hardened knot. Notice any changes and have any new or enlarged lumps evaluated by your healthcare provider.
You should also visually inspect your breasts in front of a mirror. Stand first with your arms at your sides, and next raise your arms high overhead. In both positions, look for any changes in the contour of the breasts, any swelling or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples.
Come up with a plan that works for you to remember to do self exams at least once a month. Put it on your calendar, or have a buddy system so that you and a friend remind one another to do self exams on a certain day each month. The important aspect is that you do it monthly, not sporadically, so that you’re familiar with what’s normal for you and what’s not. If you have naturally lumpy tissue, consider doing self exam every week for a month to know what’s normal for you. And if you ever detect a new or changing lump, call your doctor to have it evaluated.
Dr. Vinsant also stresses the importance of annual mammograms. Opinions vary on what age women should begin having mammograms, so talk with your doctor about your health history and risk for breast cancer.
“If you have any family history of breast cancer, you should start getting mammograms five years before the youngest person in your family got it,” says Dr. Vinsant. “For example, if your mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at 40 but your sister was also diagnosed when she was 30, you’d want to start getting mammograms at 25.”
Most importantly, don’t put it off if you notice a change or sense that something’s wrong. “We’ve had some women present with breast cancer that was so advanced surgery wasn’t an option,” says Dr. Vinsant. “They knew something was wrong but kept putting it off. If you detect a change or suspicious lump, call your doctor. It never hurts to get ultrasound imaging just to rule it out.”
Premier Surgical Associates in Knoxville is dedicated to the timely diagnosis and comprehensive treatment for all breast cancer patients. Our women’s health team empowers patients and their families to take an active role in the decisions regarding cancer treatment and management. To learn more about your options for breast cancer surgery, visit our Breast Cancer Surgery webpage.