By Eden Fleming English, MD
Piedmont Physicians at Ball Ground
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Aside from non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women. It is also the second leading cause of cancer death among women. Despite these facts, more than 7 million women aged 50-74 have not had a mammogram in the last two years.
Screening means checking for a disease before symptoms appear. The mammogram, or X-ray of the breast, is the best way to screen for breast cancer. Mammograms can detect cancers when they are early and easier to treat, before they are big enough to be felt or cause symptoms. Regular mammogram screening has been shown to lower the risk of dying from breast cancer. Screening should be discussed with your doctor, but in general women should be screened age 50-74 at least every 2 years. Women 40-49 may also benefit from screening. Women 75 and older may still benefit from screening if their overall health is still good. Mammograms are covered by most private insurance plans and Medicare. The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) also provides free or low cost mammograms across the nation.
Clinical breast exam is a breast exam done by a medical provider. These can be done yearly or if symptoms appear. Self-exams can be done at home. Neither self breast exams nor clinical breast exams have been shown to decrease the risk of dying from cancer. These exams can be used more as tools to direct the mammogram technician to pay particular attention to an area of concern.
When doing exams, it is important to know what is normal. No breast can really be called typical. What is normal for one woman may not be normal for another. Breast tissue can be dense, lumpy or uneven, and still be considered normal. Breast tissue also changes with aging, and with periods or pregnancy. The most important thing is to be familiar with your own breast tissue. If you notice a spot that is consistently getting bigger or causing you discomfort, bring it to the attention of your provider so appropriate action can be taken.
Many conditions can cause lumps in the breast. Not all breast lumps are cancers. In fact, most turn out to be benign. The most common causes of breast lumps are fibrocystic breast condition and cysts. Sometimes the mammogram or ultrasound can distinguish these conditions from cancer. Other times a biopsy is needed to determine if a breast lump is cancer. A biopsy generally involves putting a needle into a lump to collect a sample of the tissue for a pathologist to look at under the microscope.
If caught early, breast cancer is often easily treated with a lumpectomy, which is simply surgically removing the area of the breast that is affected. Mastectomy, or complete removal of the breast, is generally reserved for cancers that are more advanced. Chemotherapy and radiation are also options to treat more advanced or aggressive cancers. Screening with mammography allows more cancers to be caught in the early stages, when simple lumpectomy is all that is needed for cure. Let October be your reminder to be screened. It just might save your life!
Dr. English is accepting new patients and welcomes most major insurance plans, 678-454-6800. For more information visitpiedmontphysicians.org.