October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As many will tell you one of the coolest things about October is seeing all the pink, whether it is on athletics teams, the hunky guy down the street, or in cookies and jewelry, it’s every where. When one in eight women will develop breast cancer over her lifetime and the highest risk factors for developing breast cancer are being a woman and aging, I think it is critical that we, women and men a like, know exactly what we need to do protect and guard ourselves.
Starting at age 20, a woman should start doing self breast exams monthly and it is recommended to do so the week after she finishes her cycle. This should be done not only for detection of lumps but so that you know what your “normal” breast feels like. You should couple this with an annual well woman’s exam with your doctor. And at age 40, for a woman without other mitigating factors, should begin screenings of some kind, the most common of which is mammography.
When you do a self-breast exam, be on the look out for the following:
- A new lump or mass
- A hard mass that has irregular edges and is painless is more likely to be cancerous. (Cancers can sometimes be tender, soft and rounded, although it is rare.)
- A discharge, other than breast milk
- Redness or pain in the nipple, or on the breast skin
- Retraction of the nipple (turning upward) Swelling of the breast that is generalized with no distinct lump
If you have these symptoms, seek medical advice and attention.
There are other ways to help guard yourself. Once turning 40 plus, mammograms are the common form of screening used by medical professionals. The plus side to mammograms is they can assist in finding cancers where treatment outcomes improve as a result of early detection. This accounts for approximately 3-13% of cancer diagnosis. However, mammograms are not effective in every case. Mammograms are known for both false positives and false negatives, which is why your self breast exams and annual well woman exam are critical. Additionally for women under 40, regular screening is considered “too risky” an exposure to the radiation and the density combined with lymph nodes in young breasts make it difficult to detect cancerous tumors with mammography.
Other alternatives for screening include breast ultrasounds, often used in place of mammograms in women under 40. I personally have undertaken this exam and can say I found it non-invasive and a fairly painless and a somewhat dignified exam. Another option is that of a digital mammography where images are capture much like the technology NASA used to capture images with the Hubble telescope. Only about 8% of facilities utilize this technology but it is by far a safer method of scanning breast but is also substantially more costly.
However, it does bring me to a really cool piece of technology that is hoped to be mass produced by March 2014. Ironically, one of the main developers is the brother of someone I know and she is very proud of his accomplishment. And she should be. I recently saw a closer look into it on a local news channel’s feature story. It’s called Eclipse digital breast self-exam device (Eclipse) and it should revolutionize how breast exams are done.
First, there is no radiation so no exposing yourself to other hazardous elements that can cause cancer. Second, it uses technology that the US Navy used on submarines to “see” in murky waters to identify objects even down to the molecular level.
The device will produce digital images of your breast As a user moves the device over the skin. the images merge to create macro images of each breast to be viewed on a computer screen or mobile device.
You can then wirelessly transfer the images to the Eclipse software on a computer or to your “Pink Cloud” account. You can scan your healthy breast for a baseline and then use your new “Eclipse” device at the same time as your monthly self breast exam. Over time, the device can detect changes that will alert you to any concerns. I am by no means affiliated with this company and receive no compensation in sharing this with you. But, I for sure, at an approximate price of $99-$199, will be getting one as soon as they are available. While I am a firm believer that nothing will replace you and your knowledge of your body, I do feel this particular product marks a great step forward in detection of breast cancer.
With such a staggering statistic of 1 in 8 women, knowledge is power. I urge you to look into more on breast cancer and talk with your doctor about how you can guard yourself and help with early detection. If you have no history, the steps above will take you strides in early detection. If you have other factors, especially genetic history, perhaps genetic testing is another option for you. As a quick reminder, please make sure to do your monthly breast exams.