Raise your hand if you were able to use the restroom alone today. When was your last shower? Last sit-down meal? Anyone? As a mother, you have very little alone time. If you can’t go to the bathroom alone, you probably aren’t getting to your dentist or doctor as often as you should. While it seems physically and temporally impossible, taking care of yourself is imperative. When it comes to breast health, we have the intel for breast exams and mammograms.
The American Cancer Society doesn’t recommend self-breast exams anymore because “research does not show they provide a clear benefit.” Still, the American Cancer Society says all women should be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel and report any changes to their health care provider right away.”
When taking a shower or putting on a bra, pay attention to how your skin looks and feels. Look for redness, pulling, or swelling of the skin or nipple. Admittedly, breasts that have gone through the physiologic changes of pregnancy and breastfeeding will have a “lumpy bumpy.” If there is any hard or tender bump, talk to your doctor about it.
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The world of medicine is full of acronyms – from conditions to organizations. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is a professional association made of doctors who trained specifically in obstetrics and gynecology. The American College of Radiology (ACR) is a group of respected radiologists – doctors who are trained in methods of radiology, including X-ray imaging that is used to conduct mammograms. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is a group of experts in prevention who volunteer their services to review and recommend timings and adjustments to preventative medicine screenings like mammograms. All of the latter group of experts and leaders have recommendations.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 65.3% of women over the age of 40 had a mammogram within the last two years. It isn’t surprising that mammography is not something that women want to subject themselves to. There are cartoons depicting the true feelings of women who have mammograms on Pinterest and in newspapers. It can be a real turn-off. Additionally, leaders in the field of breast health and prevention aren’t in agreement over recommendations.
- ACOG recommends that mammography begin at age 40 (for women of average risk) and continue every 1-2 years until age 50 when recommendation changes to annually.
- ACR also recommends mammography beginning at age 40.
- The USPSTF recommendation recommends initial screening at age 50 and every other year until age 74.
Depending on which magazine article you’re reading or news program you’re watching, the recommendations may vary. If the specialists don’t agree, what should you do? The USPSTF states that decisions on when to start mammograms should be based on the individual. Talk to your doctor about your family history, concerns, and worries — especially if that concern includes actually getting the procedure.
Breast Care Centers
Every BODY is different. Your screening recommendation may be different if breast cancer runs in your family’s history, if you had a previous lump, or if you had previous breast surgery. Military families have access to breast care centers at most of the large military bases, like the one at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital. They’re dedicated to providing care from nurses, medical providers, case managers, radiologists, social workers, therapists, and other services deemed necessary.
Tricare Prime beneficiaries do not need a referral to Breast Care Centers at a military treatment facility (MTF). Tricare Select beneficiaries can follow-up with civilian counterparts of breast care centers, but costs are determined based on co-pay amounts or amounts paid within the year (WC). If your local MTF does not have a breast care center, ask where the nearest one is.
One of the main purposes of a clinic is to help an individual determine his/her risk of breast cancer and when to begin preventative services like getting a mammogram. If the risk is at a certain level, genetic counseling is typically offered through a Breast Care Center. If it isn’t, ask. Both male and female family members within the family qualify for testing based on the risk assessment. Furthermore, you may be able to obtain a breast MRI in lieu of a mammogram. A breast MRI provides a more detailed examination of the breast tissue.
Men and Breast Cancer
While not as often, breast cancer occurs in men too. Less than one percent of all breast cancers occur in men, but men are more at risk of dying from breast cancer. Why? It’s likely because breast cancer in men is not as commonly talked or thought about and is therefore not detected as early as it is in women. If there are any nipple changes or hardness behind the nipple for a man, he should seek medical evaluation.
There you have it — the intel and current guidelines (as of April 2019) in breast health. Never hesitate to ask your primary care provider (PCP) if you have specific questions or concerns.
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Photo Credits: Annie Spratt, Pablo Heimplatz