Last year, I received a call after my routine mammogram letting me know something looked suspicious and I would need to come back for a diagnostic mammogram and possibly an ultrasound. Breast cancer runs in my family, so hearing this news was a bit unsettling. After my diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound, it was determined that a biopsy was necessary. The unsettling feeling in the pit of my stomach grew.
My mind ping-ponged back and forth between I’m fine and what if it’s cancer? And after what felt like an eternity, I finally received the news. My biopsy results were clear. I didn’t have cancer. I was grateful, but also very aware in that moment that this isn’t the case for everybody.
My experience reinforced what I knew to be true: Keeping on top of breast health is extremely important and should not be neglected.
Just like regular trips to the gynecologist aren’t on most peoples’ top ten list of things to do, they are necessary. For some, they are life-saving. And the same is true for mammograms.
With COVID-19 came some delays, and the thought of going into a doctor’s office for preventative breast cancer screenings and mammograms may not have been the most appealing. But breast cancer doesn’t wait for a pandemic, and with breast cancer being the leading cause of death in women, breast health is just as important now than it ever was.
Vicky Sherman, MD, FACOG, is a physician at OB/GYN of Indiana. She has been practicing for 27 years and sees patients at the Indianapolis south office and downtown at CityWay. When asked about breath health, Sherman emphasized the importance of being familiar with what is normal for your breasts.
“The odds of a woman getting breast cancer in her lifetime is 1 out of 8,” Sherman says. “Staying on top of breast health is important to prevent cancer, as well as early detection of cancer to improve the odds of survival.”
“Breast health begins with an awareness of what is normal for your breasts,” Sherman continues. “It is important to note how your breasts change throughout the month and especially during your menstrual cycle. ACOG (American College of OB/GYN) no longer recommends that women perform self-breast exams, but it is important for women to be aware of any changes noted in their breasts. Breast cancers are found by the woman in at least half the cases.”
What are some of the things you should look for? Sherman says some warning signs of breast cancer include a firm lump; dry, cracked, red or thickened skin around your nipple; blood or non-milky fluid leaking from nipples; burning or tingling sensation in the breast; swelling in the armpit or collarbone; new onset nipple retraction; and redness of the breasts. If you notice any of these changes, she recommends you seek prompt medical advice.
In addition to self-awareness, regular screenings are also recommended. According to ACOG, average-risk women should have screening mammograms every one to two years starting at age 40 and continuing until age 75.
If you are considered high risk, or if something abnormal is found during a routine appointment, it may be recommended that you go in for screenings more frequently. After my biopsy, it was recommended that I have diagnostic mammograms every six months for two years. If everything continues to look OK, at that point I will return to regular yearly screenings.
When talking about breast health, Sherman also encourages wellness and making healthy lifestyle choices as a way to lower the risk of breast cancer, or other breast problems.
“Some of the lifestyle changes that positively impact breast health include maintaining healthy body weight, eating whole foods with a mostly plant-based diet and high in cruciferous vegetables (such as kale, cabbage and broccoli), limit alcohol intake, exercise regularly (aim for 30 minutes daily), don’t smoke, get adequate sleep and avoid stress,” Sherman says.
Self-awareness, regular check-ups, screenings, annual mammograms, healthy lifestyle choices and understanding your family history are all key factors in prevention and early detection of breast cancer. It’s up to you to take initiative when it comes to your health, and breast health is no exception. So check your calendar, and if it’s time, make that call to schedule your appointment today.