The thought of having breast cancer is frightening to everyone, and especially devastating to women. However, ignoring the possibility that you may develop breast cancer or avoiding the processes to detect cancer can be dangerous. Fewer women are dying of breast cancer, largely due to advances in screening and treatment. Poorer women, however, are seeing a slower decline in breast cancer fatalities, in part because of barriers and less access to these medical advances and preventative care.
At Bridgercare, we see women of all ages, backgrounds, and socio-economic statuses. Bridgercare offers annual breast exams and breast lump checks to women and men of all ages regardless of ability to pay. We can help you determine when to get a mammogram, write the order for a mammogram, and interpret the results for you. Breast cancer affects us all, whether we’ve had a friend, sister, or mother diagnosed. Awareness that we need to take breast-cancer prevention seriously is becoming increasingly important. At Bridgercare, our goal is to make prevention available to all our patients, no matter their income level.
Although there are some women who are at higher risk, the fact is that all women are at risk for breast cancer. That is why it is so important to follow this three-step plan for preventive care. Although breast cancer cannot be prevented, early detection of problems provides the greatest possibility of successful treatment.
What is the three-step plan?
Routine care is the best way to keep you and your breasts healthy. Although detecting breast cancer at its earliest stages is the main goal of routine breast care, other benign conditions, such as fibrocystic breasts, are often discovered through routine care.
Step 1. Breast Self-Examination (BSE)
A woman should begin practicing breast self-examination by the age of 19 and continue the practice throughout her life – even during pregnancy and after menopause. BSE should be done regularly at the same time every month. Regular BSE teaches you to know how your breasts normally feel so that you can more readily detect any change. Changes may include:
- development of a lump
- a discharge other than breast milk
- swelling of the breast
- skin irritation or dimpling
- nipple abnormalities (i.e., pain, redness, scaliness, turning inward)
If you notice any of these changes, see your healthcare provider or call Bridgercare as soon as possible for evaluation.
Step 2. Clinical Examination
A breast examination by a medical provider trained to evaluate breast problems, like Bridgercare’s medical team, should be part of a woman’s physical examination. Although recommendations vary, Bridgercare advises:
- Between the ages of 19 and 39, women should have a clinical breast examination by a health professional every year.
- After age 40, women should have a breast exam by a health professional every year, including a check of the underarm.
A physical breast examination by a physician or nurse is very similar to the procedures used for breast self-examination. Women who routinely practice BSE will be prepared to ask questions and have their concerns addressed during this time.
Step 3. Mammography
Mammography is a low-dose x-ray of the breasts to find changes that may occur. It is the most common preventative imaging technique. Mammography can detect cancer or other problems before a lump becomes large enough to be felt, as well as assist in the diagnosis of other breast problems. However, a biopsy is required to confirm the presence of cancer.
Because when to begin and how often to have mammograms is controversial, talk with your medical provider about a mammography schedule that is appropriate for you based on your overall health and medical history, risk factors, and personal opinion or preference.
According to the National Cancer Institute, women in their 40s and older should begin having a screening mammogram on a regular basis, every one to two years. Bridgercare’s medical team recommends starting at age 40, women should have a screening mammogram every year. (A diagnostic mammogram may be required when a questionable area is found during a screening mammogram.)
Both the National Cancer Institute and Bridgercare suggest that women who may be at increased risk for breast cancer based on family or medical history should talk with their medical provider about whether to begin having mammograms at an earlier age.
Bridgercare provides excellent, affordable reproductive and sexual healthcare and education in a safe, supportive, empowering atmosphere. We are a non-profit, family planning clinic that provides services to men and women regardless of ability to pay. We seek to improve the lives and future prospects of children and families. Our specific strategy is to prevent unplanned pregnancy and promote preventative health. If we are successful, child and family well-being will improve.
Bridgercare is a member of Montana Shares and the Montana Nonprofit Association.