October 1 kicks off National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, making today the perfect time to schedule your mammogram. Regular screening is the best way for women to protect themselves against breast cancer. Getting mammograms according to your doctor’s recommendations can help catch the disease early, improving your prognosis for recovery.
Who Needs a Mammogram?
Mammograms can be used for two different purposes: screening and diagnosis. Screening is done for women who have no current symptoms of breast cancer. Usually during a screening mammogram, the technician takes two pictures of each breast. Women who have symptoms of breast cancer will need a diagnostic mammogram, which generally involves more images of the breast. Symptoms of breast cancer include the following:
- Changes in the size or shape of the breast
- Unusual pain in the breast, different than the tenderness before a menstrual period
- Skin thickening on the breast or nipple
- Discharge from the nipple
Doctors recommend that women get screening mammograms on a regular basis. Most women over 40 will need the test every one or two years. However, if you’re at elevated risk for the disease, your doctor may suggest starting earlier than 40, or getting the test at least once annually. What factors increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer?
- Family history of the disease, particularly if a mother, daughter, or sister had breast cancer before age 40
- Specific kinds of changes in breast tissue or biopsy results
- Genetic change, especially to the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene (note that these account for only about 10% of breast cancer cases)
- Starting menstruation before age 12 or experiencing menopause before age 50
- Being over age 60
- Long-term use of hormone therapy for menopause
- Exceptionally dense breast tissue
Things to Remember before Your Appointment
It’s important to keep a few things in mind when you’re scheduling your mammogram and preparing for your appointment:
- Avoid scheduling your mammogram in the week before your menstrual period. Breasts tend to be more tender during this time, so the test could be uncomfortable.
- When you make your appointment, let the scheduler know if you have breast implants.
- Wear separates, rather than a dress. That way you can undress from the waist up, and leave your pants or skirt on.
- Skip the lotion, powder, deodorant and perfume. If these are under your arms or on your breasts, they can cause shadows on the mammogram that make the results more difficult to read.
- Make sure that your doctor will have access to any previous mammograms. If necessary, get them sent from a different facility.
If you have questions or would like to schedule a mammogram, please contact us at Lawnwood Regional Medical Center and Heart Institute. Visit us online or call Consult-a-Nurse® at 1-800-382-3522 to get answers to your questions and free referrals to physicians who perform mammograms in the Ft. Pierce and St. Lucie County area.