October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and throughout this month experts from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and its clinical care partner, the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, are offering a series of weekly research-based tip sheets regarding a variety of topics related to breast cancer, including breast cancer prevention, screening and early detection, treatment, and survivorship. The series will conclude Friday, Oct. 22.
Tip 1: If you are over 40, get a mammogram. Early detection of breast cancer offers the best chance for a cure. The Seattle Cancer Care Alliance supports the American Cancer Society’s recommendation that women begin annual mammography screening at age 40.
Tip 2: Where you go matters – choose a mammography expert. Many studies show that doctors who specialize in mammography are more accurate at interpreting the images when compared to physicians with less experience. Get your mammogram read by a doctor who specializes in reading them. The American College of Radiology offers an online search for accredited facilities and “Breast Imaging Centers of Excellence” such as the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
Tip 3: Go digital. Centers that specialize in digital mammography are best for women with dense breast tissue and for women under age 50. Digital scans can do a better job of detecting cancer in these women than traditional film mammography.
Tip 4: Don’t put off screening because of discomfort. A mammogram should never be painful. Fear that the exam will be uncomfortable is one reason women put off scheduling a mammogram. To reduce discomfort, try to schedule the exam after your monthly period, when breast tissue is less sensitive. You may benefit by taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen before your mammogram. Above all, tell the mammography technologist about any discomfort you may be experiencing. They can work with you to make the experience more comfortable.
Tip 5: Don’t put off screening because of fear. Most abnormalities found after a mammogram are not cancer. However, in some cases you may be called back for more tests, such as additional mammography or ultrasound screening, to confirm that the area on the screening mammogram is normal. That’s why you may be asked to return for a follow-up exam.
Tip 6: Consider getting results while you wait. Particularly for your first mammogram, you may want to schedule your exam so you receive your results before you leave the imaging center. Or if you have found that you are frequently called back to your mammography center for a second scan, you can ask that your appointment include getting results to you while you wait.
Tip 7: Know how your breasts feel normally. Your health care provider can show you how to do breast self-exam. If you notice a change in your breasts, such as a lump or swelling, skin irritation or dimpling, talk to your health care provider.
Tip 8: In addition to mammography, have a regular breast exam by your health care provider. The American Cancer Society recommends that women 40 and over should receive annual clinical breast exams. Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam as part of a periodic health exam by a health professional at least every three years.
Tip 9: Know your risk. If you have family members who have had breast cancer, especially a mother or sister, and if they had breast cancer before reaching menopause, tell your doctor, as your own risk of cancer may be higher than average. Some women at high risk may be recommended for annual MRI in addition to a screening mammogram.
Tip 10: Try an online risk calculator. The Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool, designed by the National Cancer Institute, is a questionnaire to help women determine their chances of developing invasive breast cancer.