By Dr. Whitney Young
Here’s a statistic that everyone should know — according to the American Cancer Society, one out of every eight women will develop breast cancer at some point in their life. This is why as medical professionals we emphasize the importance of early detection and making sure women are proactive when it comes to their health.
Women should be performing a breast exam monthly. The best time to perform this type of exam is one week after a woman’s period when the breasts are less likely to be swollen or tender. Doing monthly self-exams also help women familiarize themselves with their breasts — allowing them to notice any subtle changes.
When performing a self-exam, you should be feeling for lumps or masses, and looking for thickening or dimpling of the skin. Skin redness, pain in the breast that’s persistent or severe, and lumps in the underarms are also signs you should not ignore. If a woman is experiencing any of these symptoms, they should call their primary care physician or OB/GYN for evaluation.
That’s when imaging may be ordered like a mammogram or ultrasound, and/or a referral with a breast specialist may occur. Depending on any abnormalities or findings, there would then be follow up with a diagnostic procedure like a biopsy to make an official diagnosis.
As a breast surgeon, I always tell my patients that self-examination is just one line of defense — since breast cancer may not always present in the form of a lump or mass that you can feel on your own. This is why yearly mammograms are a critically important part of early detection.
Mammograms can detect the smallest masses, calcifications and changes over time. A woman who is considered at average risk for breast cancer should start getting mammograms at the age of 40. However, if a woman is determined to be high risk based on family history, they should start receiving mammograms and supplemental imaging earlier than 40 years old. I encourage women to have this conversation with their doctor to determine when preventative screenings should begin.
Women can start speaking with their doctors about their risk for breast cancer as early as age 25. Age, breast density, family history and other factors can help a woman and her healthcare team decide when it’s best to initiate breast health screenings.
I encourage every women to make their health a priority. If you’re reading this and you haven’t had a mammogram in years — or at all — now is the time to make an appointment. If you put off your mammogram due to COVID, make your appointment — it’s never too late. Detecting cancer in its earliest form can prevent major surgery, help avoid treatment, and possibly save your life.
Dr. Whitney Young is a breast surgeon with the Hartford HealthCare Medical Group, with offices in Meriden and North Haven. For more information, call 203.694.5200 or visit www.hartfordhealthcare.org/cancer