Know Your Girls

Health & Wellness

November 29, 2018

October is breast health awareness month. While nothing replaces a mammogram for detection, being constantly aware of your breasts can go a long way in breast health.

There have been shifts in breast screenings over the years, including self-exams and frequency of mammograms. Here’s the upshot:

  • Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death among women.
  • Recommendations may differ based on your age and family history.
  • Technology has come a long way in the past couple of decades, and early detection is the key to survival.

Let’s talk about mammograms.

And let’s address the fear that mammograms are painful. Not true. There may be some mild discomfort, but it’s brief. Mammograms detect cancer earlier, which in turn means fewer deaths, less treatment, and shorter recovery time.

Most providers offer mammograms at age 40, but your health history and preferences should guide that decision. There is flexibility, but you should start having a mammogram by at least age 50. This flexibility is based on whether you have an average risk versus a high risk due to family history or other factors. These factors are best determined by a conversation between you and your provider.

Now let’s talk about self-exams.

This is a significant change in breast health awareness. There have been research studies in average risk women that have shown that the self-positive results from self-exams have far outweighed the benefits in terms of proper diagnosis and survival. Add to that the anxiety and medical costs of clinical testing. This is why self-exams are no longer encouraged.

Instead, be self-aware.

Like the title says: know your girls. How do your breasts normally look? How do they normally feel? This is something you should do daily when you get out of the shower in the morning and stand in front of your bathroom mirror. Be alert if something changes, such as pain, a mass, swelling, or nipple discharge. These could all be signs of breast cancer.

Finally, talk to your healthcare provider and ask about when you should start having breast exams and mammograms. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.

Author of this article

Elizabeth Corey, MD, MPH, specializes in obstetrics and gynecology. She is a guest columnist and located at IU Health Physicians Women’s Health, 1115 N. Ronald Reagan Parkway, Suite 141, in Avon. She can be reached by calling the office at 317.217.2422.

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