Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women and it is the second leading cause of cancer death, after lung cancer. However, when detected early, breast cancer is very curable.
Most times, when a lump is detected, it is NOT cancer. In fact, 70 percent of all breast lumps are benign. But if you are over age 20, you should be aware of the warning signs and risk factors for breast cancer. Mammograms and regular breast examinations continue to be the best ways to detect breast cancer, and should be performed according to the American Cancer Society screening guidelines. If you need a mammogram, but do not have a physician, check out Find a Physician. To make an appointment for a mammogram, please call (303) 651.5121.
If breast cancer is present, surgeons at Longmont United Hospital have been leaders in breast conservation surgery, using lumpectomy with radiation therapy when possible to remove cancer while preserving the breast.
Addressing the psychosocial need of breast cancer patients is an integral part of diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care at Longmont United Hospital. Support groups offer education, emotional support and friendship that help women cope with this disease.
Early Detection of Breast Cancer
Through self-examination, mammography and clinical breast examination (CBE) by your doctor, breast cancers are being detected earlier than ever before.
You should learn how to perform monthly breast self-examinations. Many women who have gone through menopause find performing an exam every month on a certain day helpful. If you still menstruate, the best time to do it is five days after the start of your period. Breast self-exams are NOT a substitute for mammography or examination by a clinician, however.
By performing regular monthly exams, you will become familiar with the normal bumps you feel in your breast, and be better able to detect any changes. Call your doctor if you notice changes such as:
- Thickening or swelling of breast tissue
- Any dimpling or distortion of the breast
- Skin irritation or scaliness of the breast
- Tenderness of the nipple, nipple discharge
- Change in size or color of the breast or nipple
- Lump in the breast or under the arm
During a diagnostic mammogram, special X-ray images are taken in greater detail of an area that looked abnormal on a screening mammogram. About 10 percent of women who undergo screening mammogram will be referred for a diagnostic mammogram. The diagnostic mammogram is used to decide if:
- The area is normal and the patient can continue with annual screenings
- The area should be watched and an additional mammogram be performed in a few months
- Additional testing, such as biopsy, is necessary
Preparing for Mammography
If you have had a previous mammogram, your new mammogram will be compared with your old mammogram for any changes. If you had a mammogram at another facility, call them and ask to have those X-rays sent to Women’s Imaging Center for comparison. Bring with you any past information about surgeries, family history of cancer and medications you are taking. The best time to schedule a mammogram is one week after the beginning of your period. Do not schedule a mammogram the week before your period if you usually experience breast tenderness. The day of your mammogram, please do not wear deodorant or powder, because it can interfere with the clarity of the image obtained.
What Does a Mammogram Feel Like?
During a mammogram, you stand near a machine that will take an X-ray of your breast. So that the X-ray picture is of the highest quality, a radiological technologist gently places your breast on a platform. As the machine is lowered your breast is compressed between plates. You will experience a squeezing sensation during this time. The X-ray is taken, the machine is raised, and the mammogram is completed. Highly experienced radiologists read all X-rays, then send the results to your physician. You will receive a letter directly from Women’s Imaging Center within one week of your screening. If results are abnormal, you may have to have a diagnostic mammogram, an ultrasound or a breast biopsy.
Clinical Breast Examinations
During your routine physical examination, your doctor or health care professional may do a clinical breast examination. During this exam, your doctor will carefully feel your breasts and under your arms to check for lumps or other unusual changes.
As you get older, your risk of breast cancer increases. Your risk increases if you:
- Are over 50 years old
- Have had breast cancer
- Have a mother, grandmother or sister who has had breast cancer
- Began menstruation before you were 12 years old
- Stopped having periods after you were 55 years old
- Eat a diet that is high in fat
- Are very overweight
- Have never been pregnant
- Had your first baby after you were 30 years old
- Are on estrogen replacement therapy
Most women have one or more risk factors. If you are at higher risk, ask your doctor about more frequent breast exams and mammograms. If you would like more information about genetic predisposition to cancer, contact the Hope Cancer Care Center of a referral at 303.651.5252.
Longmont United Hospital follows the guidelines of the American Cancer Society in recommending the following schedule:
- Women age 20 and older: Monthly breast self examinations (BSE)
- Women age 20 to 40: BSE and Clinical breast examination by a doctor every year
- Women age 40 and older: BSE and clinical exam plus mammogram screening every year