Breast Health
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Early breast cancer detection and other breast health tips.

More than 90 percent of all breast lumps are discovered by women themselves. The majority of all breast lumps are benign (non cancerous). Breast and lung cancers are the leading causes or death from cancer in American women. About one woman in eight (12 percent of all women) will develop breast cancer at some time in her life. Breast health is the key to early detection and treatment of breast cancer.

Breast health is a three-step approach:

  • Breast Self-Exam
  • Mammography
  • Professional Breast Exam

The breast self-exam (BSE) requires a mirror and your three middle fingers. This is an easy technique for learning what’s normal in your breasts. BSE helps in early detection of breast cancer because you monitor changes monthly. This helps you stay in tune with your breast. Look for nipple changes or changes in the size or shape of your breasts.

Observe for dimpling, puckering, or other changes in the appearance of your breasts.

Also, upon exam a drop or two of clear, greenish, or milky fluid is normal from the nipple. A bloody or spontaneous discharge is not normal. Any abnormal findings including a lump for change from previous exams should be reported to your doctor.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommendations for BSE are as follows:

  • Age 20-50 - Once a month, seven to ten days after your period starts (when breasts are less tender or swollen)
  • Age 50+ Postmenopausal women - the same day each month

Mammography is used for routine screening, diagnosis, and in conjunction with biopsy. It is best for locating abnormalities too small to feel. Theses x-ray images of the inside of your breasts are used to regularly screen for, or locate, breast changes in women from age 40 on. They can also help in the evaluation of any breast changes found by you or your doctor.

Mammography recommendations are:

  • By age 40 first mammogram
  • 40+ every year

Professional breast exam is your assurance that you haven’t missed anything during your own monthly breast self-exam. During annual checkups, you can have your breasts examined by your health care professional – someone who’s skilled at identifying problems and knowing when and how to follow up.

ACS guidelines are:

  • Age 20-40 every one to three years
  • 40+ every year

Other breast health tips are:

  • If your breasts hurt: wear a sports bra for support.
  • Apply heat (a hot bath) or cold (an ice pack).
  • Eat foods high in fiber and low in salt.
  • Ask your doctor about limiting caffeine and taking certain vitamins.

Your risk for breast cancer can be assessed with a program called Gail Model. This program requires the answers to the following questions:

  • What is your age?
  • What was your age at time of first menstrual period?
  • What was your age at first live birth of a child?
  • How many of your first-degree blood relatives have had breast cancer?
  • Have you ever had a breast biopsy?
  • How many previous breast biopsies have you had?
  • Have you had at least one biopsy with atypical hyperplasia?
  • What is your race/ethnicity?

There is significance to the responses to these questions. The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. The majority of breast cancer cases occur in women older than age 50. Women who had first menstrual period before age 12 have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer. Women who had their full-term pregnancy after age 30 and women who have never borne a child have a greater risk of developing breast cancer.

Having one or more first-degree blood relatives (sisters, mother, daughters) who have been diagnosed with breast cancer increases a woman’s chances of developing this disease.

Women who have had breast biopsies have an increased risk of breast cancer, especially if the biopsies showed a change in breast tissue known as atypical hyperplasia. These women are at increased risk because of whatever breast changes prompted the biopsies.

Although breast cancer is not yet preventable, with monthly BSE and periodic professional breast exams and mammography, breast cancer can be detected early and treated properly. Also, you may lower your risk of breast cancer by living a healthy lifestyle, including eating a low-fat, high-fiber diet and exercising. If you do notice a breast change, see your health care professional as soon as possible.