Have you noticed a little more pink around this month? That’s because it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month! According to the National Cancer Institute, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, so it’s something that has touched almost everyone in some way or form. Let’s talk about what you should know about breast cancer.

As a woman, it is important to take charge and understand your personal risk of breast cancer. Certain factors, like a strong family history (meaning your mother or sister have had breast cancer), can mean you are at an increased risk of breast cancer yourself. Other factors, such as age (being 40 years old or older) or having dense breast tissue can also elevate your risk. These, amongst others, are risk factors you should discuss with your healthcare provider.

Know your body. Breast tissue is predominately composed of fibrous tissue and fat, with the combination of these tissues varying differently in each woman. It is beneficial to know what feels normal for you and periodically checking to see if there are any changes. Concerning changes include feeling a lump, noticing skin thickening or dimpling, nipple discharge or inversion, and changes in breast size. If you detect any changes in your breast tissue, you should discuss them with your healthcare provider right away.

Get screened! Most healthcare providers would recommend starting yearly screening mammograms at the age of 40. Certain risk factors such as those discussed above may prompt your physician to start screening earlier. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast tissue which can detect suspicious calcifications or tissue. During the procedure the breast is pressed out on a clear platform to spread the tissue out. Some women experience mild discomfort from the procedure, which may be prevented or decreased by taking an over-the-counter pain medication like Tylenol before the test. According to a 2007 article in the journal Radiology, approximately 10 percent of women undergoing a screening mammogram will be called back for an additional mammogram or further evaluation.

Is a mammogram expensive? According to the National Cancer Institute, Medicare and most private insurance companies will cover the cost of a screening mammogram without a co-payment or deductible. If you are currently uninsured, you may still qualify for a free or low-cost screening mammogram through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. Please contact (800) 511-2300 for more information.

Women of Santa Monica, wear pink in October and talk to your doctor about breast cancer screenings to make sure you get the testing that is right for you!

 

 

Dr. Sion Roy and Dr. Kathleen Ruchalski are a husband and wife physician duo that lives in Santa Monica. Dr. Roy is a cardiology fellow and Dr. Ruchalski is a radiology resident at UCLA. Please e-mail them at doctorsorderssantamonica@gmail.com with comments and questions. The opinions in this column are not intended as individual medical advice, treatment or diagnosis, as only your doctor knows you well enough to do that.