Taking Breast Cancer Prevention and Detection into Your Own Hands
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Learn the symptoms of breast cancer. Listen to your body. Advocate for your health when you have a concern.
For many of us, the pandemic has turned our lives upside-down. We have learned to be flexible as we’ve adapted to new work, home and personal rhythms. The chances are that our personal health needs have fallen low on our to-do list. If we have ignored concerning symptoms such a lingering rash or unusual swelling, many of us are delaying seeing a physician about a change in health. Men can get breast cancer. In fact, men who develop breast cancer typically present with more advanced disease than women.
The National Center for Health Statistics reports slightly more than 20 percent of people over the age of 18 visit their primary physician within three months of the onset of a new health symptom. The number declines for those over 65. Responding quickly to new symptoms is especially important for detecting and preventing breast cancer, the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in American women. When detected early before it has spread, breast cancer has a 99 percent five-year survival rate.
Women often think a lump is the singular sign of breast cancer, but there is more than one type, including some that present unique symptoms. Others include a change in breast size or shape, nipple or skin changes and abnormal nipple discharge. A less common, but highly aggressive form of breast cancer – inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) – often doesn’t produce a well-defined lump. The primary symptom of IBC is persistent redness and swelling in and around the breast. Dimpled skin resembling orange peel may also appear.
Beginning in their 20s, women should check their breasts monthly for lumps or unusual changes. Many are benign or less serious, but it needs to be checked by a physician. Helpful questions to prepare before seeing a doctor include what may have caused the symptom or lump; what next steps or tests are needed; and if they will refer to a physician specializing in breast health.
Regular breast self-exams are important, but preventative, proactive screenings such as clinical breast exams and mammogram are the most effective in detecting cancer early. There is a group of high-risk patients that will benefit from additional screening such as thermography or MRI, along with screening mammogram.
COVID-19 vaccines can cause side effects that may impact the interpretation of results from mammograms. Texas Oncology recommends completing upcoming imaging before getting the vaccine or wait six weeks after the second COVID-19 vaccine dose. Patients needing imaging during this time should discuss with their provider ordering the imaging before proceeding.
Bindupriya Chandrasekaran M.D., MRCS is a breast surgical oncologist at Texas Breast Specialists–Methodist Cancer Centers in Dallas, Texas. For more information, visit TexasBreastSpecialists.com.