Have you recently run across a lump that shouldn’t be there? At my age if I didn’t run across lumps and bumps I would think that by some miracle I was regressing in age. I need to keep a record of them so I can tell which ones are from old age and which ones need attention.
But seriously, while living life can be incredibly distracting we must make time to check on the status of our bodies. And they include our breasts.
Breast exams are the check-ups, mammograms and other screening methods to find cancer before the symptoms appear. It’s important to have these tests done so that detection can be found and treated in its early stage.
I know, I know. Having a mammogram is like getting your boob mashed with a sandwich press that a gorilla is sitting on. The Ultrasound feels like a Fiat 500 automobile is rolling across your breasts. Flashing my sagging, scarred, lopsided breasts that time, age and money have misshapen to a total stranger is not something I look forward to with glee. However, knowing that early detection and a possible clean bill of health in that department (I have other departments that are suffering) gives me a sense of peace. And after all, that is why we are doing this. Right?
So what types of testing are out there? Some are easy and do it yourself and some require special equipment. While you may know some of these, some are new and worth the read.
Disclaimer: For accuracy sake, I have taken the liberty to provide direct written information from various reputable sites. I give credit to each site and suggest you check them out for even more in-depth information.
Types of Screenings
Taken from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Mammography uses low-dose x-rays to examine your breasts. Annual mammograms (also called screening mammograms) have been shown to significantly reduce the number of women age 40 and older who die from breast cancer. Digital mammography captures x-ray images as well as computer images in which the picture can be moved and viewed from different angles. Digital breast tomosynthesis, which is sometimes called 3-D mammography provides a deeper look at the breast tissue and can be utilized when needed.
During a mammogram, you will stand in front of the x-ray machine while the person who takes the x-rays places your breast between two plastic plates. The plates flatten your breast in order to produce a clear picture of the tissue inside. (There’s the sandwich press analogy)
A screening mammogram usually involves taking two or more x-rays of each breast. The x-ray images can show tumors; they may also show abnormalities that sometimes indicate the presence of breast cancer. Mammograms can also be used to diagnose breast cancer when you already have signs of the disease.
Memorial Sloan Kettering advises women to begin annual screenings at age 40.
Breast ultrasound (or ultrasonography) uses sound waves to create images of your breast tissue. During a breast ultrasound, a probe is placed on the skin of your breast. The probe sends high-frequency sound waves into your breast, which bounce off the tissue and return to the probe as echo waves. The echo waves are then converted to the images you see on the screen of the ultrasound machine.
Breast ultrasound is often used to assess abnormalities that are found during mammography or a clinical breast exam. The accuracy of the technique depends greatly on the skill level and training of the technician performing it.
Breast Tomosynthesis (3-D Mammography)
Breast tomosynthesis, also called 3-D mammography, is a new technology. It takes images of the breast from many different angles and creates a three-dimensional picture of the tissue. Like breast ultrasound, breast tomosynthesis may be particularly useful for women with dense breasts.
Contrast-Enhanced Digital Mammography (CEDM)
Contrast-enhanced digital mammography, or CEDM, combines digital mammogram with the injection of a special dye called a contrast agent. Because cancers absorb more of the contrast agent than the surrounding healthy tissue, it is easier for doctors to detect cancers on the mammogram.
CEDM is still a relatively new technology, and plays a role in screening for breast cancer in women at above-average risk or women who have dense breast.
Breast MRIPl\ Video
Breast MRI, when used to screen for breast cancer, involves the use of radio waves and a powerful magnet linked to a computer that creates detailed pictures of your breast.
During an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) test, fluids are injected to improve the visibility of the inside of the breast.
Studies show that having regular mammography plus breast MRI may offer some advantages over other screening methods for women who are at high risk for the disease. However, it is not typically recommended for women at average risk of breast cancer.
Thermography uses a type of infrared technology that detects and records temperature changes on the surface of the skin. It can help screen for breast cancer. A thermal infrared camera takes a picture of the areas of different temperature in the breasts. The camera displays these patterns as a sort of heat map.
When a cancerous growth develops, there may be excessive formation of blood vessels and inflammation in the breast tissue. These show up on the infrared image as areas with a higher skin temperature. The benefits are that it is a noninvasive, non-contact procedure that does not involve pressing the breasts. It does not involve exposure to radiation, and people can use it safely over time. It detects vascular changes in breast tissue that may indicate the presence of cancer many years before other methods of screening can. It can detect changes in breast with dense tissue and implants. Hormonal and menstrual changes do not affect the procedure or the results.
The drawbacks are that thermography does not
detect cancer – it can only alert a person to changes that need further investigation. The information it provides is limited. Although it can show changes in heat and vascular features, it does not show how the breast has changed. It can also show changes that are not cancerous, and undergoing a standard mammogram may be necessary to clarify the results. Also, sometimes, thermography does not reveal cancerous changes that are present. Also, medical insurance often does not cover the cost of thermography, whereas it will often pay for regular mammogram screening.
Clinical Breast Exam
A clinical breast exam is a physical exam of the breast performed by a trained healthcare professional. It includes an examination of breasts, your underarms, and your collarbone area to check for any signs of breast cancer.
A breast self-exam, which you may also call a self-breast exam, is an at-home breast exam you give yourself. You’ll want to check your breasts for anything that feels unusual. You should look for breast lumps, changes in size or shape, leaking of fluid from the nipples, or irregular thickening of tissue.
While most experts recommend breast self-exams for women, they are not a substitute for the routine breast cancer screenings performed by trained healthcare professionals.
How do I do a Breast Self-Exam?
Adult women of all ages are encouraged to perform breast self-exams at least once a month.
Johns Hopkins Medical center states, “Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.”
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 healthcare professional if there are any changes.
How Should A Breast Self-Exam Be Performed?
1) In the Shower
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 lump, thickening, or hardened knot. Notice any changes and get lumps evaluated by your healthcare provider.
2) In Front of a Mirror
Visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead.
Look for any changes in the contour, any swelling, or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples. Next, rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Left and right breasts will not exactly match—few women’s breasts do, so look for any dimpling, puckering, or changes, particularly on one side.
3) Lying Down
When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions covering the entire breast area and armpit.
Use light, medium, and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for your left breast. Taken from the NationalBreastCancer.org
For more explicit directions with pictures please see https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/patient-education/breast-self-awareness-breast-self-exam
Breast checkups are not something anyone looks forward to. Neither is tangling with the Cancer Dragon. Personally, I would rather go through some mashing, prodding and poking once or twice a year than years of surgery, radiation, chemotherapies, not to mention worry.
Besides, I want to slay the Cancer Dragon and not the other way around.
Please, check your breasts, schedule your mammography and be around to nag your kids, play with the grand kids, and annoy your spouse, boyfriend, or significant other. That’s the best reason I know to detect and protect the Tatas.
Thank you for reading my post. If you have found it encouraging please consider liking, commenting or sharing it. Feel free to comment here or even re-blog – may these words take flight!
I have additional insights I’d love to share with you found in the pages of my debut book: Surviving Medical Mayhem – Laughing When It Hurts. To order a copy or learn more go to my website at www.lorettaschoen.com
Blessings for Health & Wellness.