Digital mammography screening, ultrasound, and breast self-exams are three of the best tools we have to find lumps or tumors in the breast. So, don't skip your annual mammography screenings and get to know your breasts by checking them every month. Once you get into a monthly routine of checking your breasts, you are more likely to notice when your breasts start looking and feeling different.
Since so many of us are attached to our cell phones, I recommend using your cell phone calendar feature or an app to remind you when to check your breasts each month. Pick a date (preferably a week after your monthly cycle, if you are still menstruating) and check your breasts on the same date each month. If you notice a new lump in the breast tissue or under the armpit, you should contact your primary care doctor to make sure it is not cancer. Also, if you notice any swelling, redness in the skin on your breast, discharge from one or both of your nipples, or have pain in any area of your breasts, call you doctor as soon as possible. Finally, you should also contact your doctor if you notice your breast tissue has started to have a dimple-like feature that resembles the skin of an orange.
Even though breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer in women, the survival rates for breast cancer increases when breast cancer is diagnosed early (CDC, 2019). That’s why it is essential that you are very proactive about noticing any “new” signs or changes in your breasts. If you do notice any changes in your breasts and are unsure if it is cancer, it is always best to get it checked out by your primary care doctor or a gynecologist.
There are some changes that woman can experience with their breasts that resemble some of the symptoms of breast cancer, that include swelling and enhanced sensitivity in the nipples. These changes can occur from taking birth control pills or hormone replacement medication and may not be cancer. The National Cancer Institute has a great resource (see link below) to help women understand that most breast changes are not cancer.
If you do not have health insurance or have a low income, you may be eligible for a free mammogram. The National Breast Cancer Foundation’s (NBCF) national mammography program is available to ensure women have access to free mammography screening and a range of other services. Check out NBCF’s website here to find a facility in your area for a free mammogram. Remember, early detection of breast cancer can save your life!
Breast Care Resources
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, September). National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. Retrieved from: www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbccedp
National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. (2020. October). Breast Problems, That Aren’t Breast Cancer. Retrieved from: https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/early-detection-guide/
National Cancer Institute. (2014. February). Understanding Breast Changes: A Health Guide for Women. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/breast-changes/understanding-breast-changes.pdf
Disclosure: (I am a writer and editor for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Information contained in this blog post are not associated with my role at NIH).