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Let’s Talk About Breast Cancer Screening

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October is Breast Cancer Health Awareness Month! We’ll be kicking off a monthly series to discuss breast health, and today’s focus is on breast cancer screening.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has taken a toll on women’s health in alarming ways. A recent survey shows that many women have missed routine preventive care like annual exams & breast cancer screenings but plan to get back on the books. Friends, staying proactive with screening protocols—breast self-exams, clinical exams, & mammograms is so important for your overall breast health!

When does screening start?

Typically, every woman who is 40 years & older & in good health should have a mammogram annually, unless there is increased risk due to a strong family history of breast cancer, or other risks such as a genetic mutation known to increase risk of breast cancer (such as in a BRCA gene) exists.

In 2011, a newer type of mammogram called digital breast tomosynthesis (commonly known as [3D] mammography) has become much more common & widely available. Many studies have found that 3D mammography appears to lower the chance of being called back for follow-up testing & is helpful in women with dense breasts. You can choose between 2D (normal mammography) & 3D mammography, so speak with your healthcare provider about your options! Some women may also qualify for MRI imaging to screen for breast cancer.

Should I perform a self-breast exam?

We now refer to this as “breast self-awareness”.  Many times when breast cancer is detected it’s because of symptoms, such as a lump, women discover during usual activities such as bathing or dressing. So, absolutely! You should be familiar with how your breasts normally look & feel & should report any changes including breast lumps, pain, or asymmetry to your health care provider right away. We like to think of it as “knowing your body” such that if a change occurs in your breasts, you will have an awareness that something is different!

How do I know if I’m considered high risk?

A woman is considered high risk if they have a lifetime risk of breast cancer of about 20-25% or greater, have a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation (based on genetic testing), or if they have a 1st degree relative with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation & have not had genetic testing themselves. Your lifetime risk is calculated by certain risk assessment tools that are based on family history & other factors like breast density, age at first period, & many more. Calculating risk helps identify women that need enhanced screening with MRI. Make sure you’re talking to your HCP about whether or not you might fall into a high risk category. 

Friends, remember to stay abreast (😉) with your mammograms & breast exams. Multiple large, well-done studies show that having a mammogram annually reduces risk of dying of breast cancer by 25%… Mammography saves lives! 

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