Over 40? Screen for breast cancer
Q: I heard October is breast cancer awareness month. Do both men and women need to check for breast cancer?
A: October is indeed breast cancer awareness month, and it is important to take your health into your own hands (literally and metaphorically) by keeping up with annual breast cancer screenings.
Although more common in females, breast cancer can develop in men, too. Therefore, self-checks for new or irregular lumps can be beneficial for men as well as women.
Q: Can I do checks on my own?
A: Yes. It is encouraged, regardless of age, to perform self-exams at least monthly. This way you will become familiar with your body and can notice any changes. According to Johns Hopkins Medical Center, “Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.”
If you notice any changes, call your primary care provider, who can refer you to a breast care center or breast surgical oncologist. These types of oncologists specialize in breast cancer and have extensive experience locating tumors and diagnosing the disease.
Q: How do I perform a self-exam?
A: Currently, there are three methods recommended for checking:
In the shower. While raising one arm, use your other hand to move in a circular pattern around the entire breast and armpit area, then repeat on the other side.
In front of a mirror. Inspect with both your arms up and down by your sides and look for changes in shape such as swelling, a rash or any new dimples.
Lying down. Place a pillow under one shoulder, raise the same arm and use the other to check in a circular motion around the entire breast and armpit; repeat on the other side.
Overall, you should be checking for new lumps and bumps, watching for changes in color and shape, and looking out for discharge or drainage.
Q: What else do you recommend?
A: It is recommended that all women, beginning at age 40, receive a once-yearly mammogram. [After age 75, your doctor may recommend less frequent screenings.]
A mammogram is the gold standard for early detection of breast cancer. If you’ve been diagnosed with dense breast tissue, your doctor may recommend a sonogram or MRI in addition to a mammogram.
It is empowering to take your health into your own hands. These small changes to your monthly routine can have a large impact.
If you want more information or clarification, have a conversation with your pharmacist or doctor.
Leah Selznick is a fourth-year pharmacy student at VCU School of Pharmacy. She received her B.S. in Biology from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. She plans to pursue a career as a clinical pharmacist with areas of interest in critical care, emergency department and pediatrics.