There’s more to maintaining good breast health than mammograms. Here, Dr. Erica Giblin of St. Vincent Breast Services, addresses common questions:
Q: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MOST TYPICAL BREAST ISSUES WOMEN ENCOUNTER?
A: Cyclic breast pain — pain in the breasts that occurs a week or two before or during your period — is aggravating because it happens every month. To help with acute pain, I recommend Advil or ibuprofen; over a longer period of time, I recommend evening primrose oil. Other things that help decrease pain are cessation of caffeine intake and decreasing salt intake.
Breast lumps are another common issue. The good news is that most breast lumps are not cancer; a significant amount are water-filled cysts. These usually pop up right before a woman has her period due to hormones stimulating the breast tissue. That being said, if a woman feels a lump, she should always have it checked out by her provider.
Q: WHAT ARE THE BEST THINGS WOMEN CAN DO TO MAINTAIN BREAST HEALTH?
A: Maintain good overall general health. Know your breasts and what’s normal for you. Doing self exams a week after your period ends is the perfect time when the breast tissue is least swollen and least irritated by hormones.
There are several guidelines about screening mammography and how often you should go to balance evaluating for breast cancer while trying to limit the amount of imaging a woman needs. Know your family history of cancer and talk to your provider about your personal risk factors. There are things we can do to help identify if a woman is at higher risk of getting breast or ovarian cancer.
Q: HOW MANY WOMEN ARE AFFECTED BY BREAST CANCER?
A: In 2015, an estimated 231,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer were diagnosed among women, as well as an estimated 60,290 additional cases of in situ breast cancer. Also in 2015, approximately 40,290 women were expected to die from breast cancer. Only lung cancer accounts for more cancer deaths in women.
Q: ARE THERE THINGS WOMEN CAN DO TO MAINTAIN GOOD BREAST HEALTH?
A: Maintain a healthy diet (Mediterranean type) and appropriate weight. These are the most important things a person can do to help prevent any cancer, as well as heart disease, which is the No. 1 killer.
Q: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE EARLIEST SYMPTOMS AND BREAST CHANGES THAT MIGHT MERIT INVESTIGATION?
A: A breast lump, bloody nipple discharge, indentation of the skin and skin changes such as thickening of the skin. NEVER ignore a breast lump.
Q: HOW OFTEN SHOULD WOMEN DO SELF-EXAMS?
A: At least once a month. If you’re still menstruating, perform a breast self-exam a week or so after your period. Breasts can swell and become more lumpy right before menses; this can make a self exam difficult. Look for new lumps, indentations in the skin, skin thickening or redness. Make sure to feel under your armpits for lumps as well.
Q: HOW ACCURATE ARE MODERN MAMMOGRAMS IN DETECTING EARLY BREAST CANCER?
A: Mammography continues to evolve and improve; the sensitivity of current mammography is about 70 to 80 percent. Find a tumor when it’s smaller helps catch cancer at an earlier stage and allows for breast conservation surgery.
Q: WHAT ARE THE CURRENT MAMMOGRAM GUIDELINES?
A: The American Cancer Society states that women should start having a yearly mammogram at age 45 if the patient is of average risk. If there is a family history of breast cancer, you’ll start earlier — at least by age 40.
Q: HOW HAVE BREAST SCREENINGS EVOLVED AND IMPROVED IN RECENT YEARS?
A: We now have 3-D mammography, which has improved sensitivity in discovering very small breast cancers in women with dense breast tissue.