In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, The Forum begins a series of articles this week that we hope will serve to raise awareness and underscore the mandatory things every woman must do to prevent breast cancer and to preserve breast health.
Throughout the month we hope to provide you with facts, tips and resources that can serve as helpful tools for you or for a loved one who has questions or is facing this disease.
And remember, the five minutes you spend reading this or other information about breast cancer can save a life. Maybe your own.
PROPER STEPS TO CONDUCTING A BREAST SELF-EXAM
Women recognize the importance of living a healthy lifestyle, which includes conducting self-exams to detect for breast cancer. Breast self-exams are vital to discovering abnormalities, including lumps or tenderness, in the breasts.
Self-examination increases the chances of early detection of breast cancer. John Hopkins Medical Center states that 40 percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump.
Doctors urge women to conduct monthly self-exams to familiarize themselves with the look and feel of their breasts, which enables them to more readily recognize any abnormalities that may indicate illness. There are a number of ways to conduct a breast self-exam, and women are urged to find the method they feel is most comfortable for them.
The National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. offers these tips for conducting a breast examination at home.
• Examine breasts in the shower. A breast examination can take place in the shower while you are washing. The shower is a convenient place to conduct an exam since you already have removed your clothes. NBCF says you should use the pads of your fingers and move around your entire breast in a circular pattern, moving from the outside to the center, checking the entire breast and armpit area. Check both breasts each month for any lumps, thickening or hardened knots. If you find a lump, visit your physician for an evaluation.
• Conduct an examination in bed. The breast tissue will naturally distribute over your chest wall and ribs when you are lying down. NBCF advises you to place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions covering the entire breast area and armpit. Squeeze the nipple and check for discharge or lumps. Then repeat the process on the left breast.
• Conduct a visual examination. Standing in front of the mirror, you can look at your breasts with your hands at your side and over your head. Look for any differences between breasts. Many women find that their breasts are not exactly the same shape or size, but unusual dimpling or taut or thick skin may be indicative of a problem.
Should any lumps or abnormalities be discovered during an examination, a woman should not panic but schedule an appointment with her doctor for a more thorough examination, which may include a mammogram or ultrasound to map out images of the breast that may be hidden to the naked eye.
Breast self-examinations are an essential element of a healthy lifestyle for women. Early detection of breast cancer vastly improves survival rates, and self-examination is often the most effective way to detect breast cancer early on.
EDUCATING YOUNG WOMEN ABOUT BREAST CANCER
At the age of 12 to 15, many young women are experiencing the body and life changes that accompany adolescence. It can be difficult to imagine that breasts that are just beginning to develop may contain cancer. But such is the reality for some girls.
The majority of women who receive a breast cancer diagnosis are over the age of 40. Experts at Monroe Carell Jr. Hospital at Vanderbilt University note that only 5 percent of breast cancer cases are found in women under the age of 40. However, the hospital recently treated a 14-year-old girl who found a lump and learned she had a rare form of breast cancer called a phyllodes tumor. In 2009, a 13-year-old from Little Rock, Ark. found a quarter-sized lump in her right breast, while a 19-year-old student at the College of New Jersey was diagnosed with cancerous cells and underwent a bilateral mastectomy.
Though such cases are rare, it behooves teenage and adolescent girls to familiarize themselves with the disease and be mindful of their breast health.
Some organizations have increased breast cancer messages for young girls, and it is not uncommon to find young women participating in runs and fundraisers for breast cancer research. Some organizations even conduct breast cancer workshops to educate young women about breast health. Dorothy Paterson of Texas, a former Girl Scout leader who was diagnosed with breast cancer herself, began conducting workshops for Girl Scouts in 2007. The idea isn’t to scare girls into believing they have the disease, but rather to increase their awareness of changes in their bodies that may or may not be normal.
Some parents worry that educating children about breast cancer may cause them to worry unnecessarily, especially considering a young girl’s risk of developing breast cancer is so minimal. However, others see the importance in schooling girls early on about a disease that is so common. Advocates of teaching young girls about breast cancer often note that any effort to help save lives and promote health is worthwhile.
Just as with older women, adolescents and teens should realize that eating healthy foods, exercising, avoiding alcohol and tobacco, and maintaining annual physical exams with a doctor are key ways to reduce the risk for cancer.