Be breast aware this Breast Cancer Awareness Month

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Mammograms are the best way to detect breast cancer early

Breast awareness is a vital part of early detection for breast cancer. People of all ages should be familiar with their breasts. However, as people get older, it becomes even more critical because the risk of breast cancer increases. Today, one out of every eight females will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.

Let’s explore several components of breast awareness this Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Knowing the body

Breast awareness is knowing the body, which means considering what one’s breasts usually look and feel like. By knowing what is typical, a person can identify when there is a change. Changes may include:

  • the size or shape of the breast
  • the skin of the breast (such as puckering, dimpling or redness)
  • lumps or thickening that is different from the rest of the tissue
  • red scaly rash on the nipple
  • bloody nipple discharge or nipple retraction
  • lumps in the armpit

It is important to report any changes to a healthcare provider.

Completing breast screenings

Breast awareness also means getting routine breast screenings. Clinical breast exams by a healthcare provider should start in a person’s 20s and continue through adulthood. Females should have the choice to begin screening mammograms at age 40. For most people, mammograms are the best way to detect breast cancer early. Breast cancer is easier to treat early on before there are symptoms. Having regular mammograms can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer.

The purpose of breast screening is to detect abnormalities in patients without symptoms. This is different than diagnostic imaging, which is performed if a person has an abnormal screening mammogram or if a change is detected during a breast examination.

Understanding breast density

Breast density is an important topic for females. Breasts are made up of fibrous, glandular and fatty tissue. The amount of each tissue determines the density in the breast. Density can be detected during a mammogram by a radiologist. Fibrous and glandular tissue appears white on a mammogram (more dense), while fatty tissue appears dark (less dense). 

Breast density has four categories scaled A through D:

  • Category A means the breast has mostly fatty tissue and very little fibrous and glandular tissue.
  • Breasts in Category B have scattered areas of fibrous and glandular tissue but mostly fatty tissue.
  • In Category C, the breast is heterogeneously dense and has a mix of fatty, fibrous and glandular tissue.
  • In Category D, breasts have extremely dense tissue with little fatty tissue.

High breast density is common. More than 50% of females have dense breast tissue. A person cannot tell if they have dense breasts by their feel or size.

There are many reasons to know if one’s breasts are dense. First, it is a risk factor for breast cancer. Second, dense breast tissue and breast cancer both may appear white on a mammogram, which makes the mammogram more difficult to read. Still, it still necessary to get a mammogram.

Summa Health offers 3D mammograms with tomosynthesis technology, which is beneficial for patients with dense breast tissue.

Additional screening tests can help doctors detect tumors that may not be identified by conventional mammography, such as breast ultrasound or breast MRI.

Patients should talk with a healthcare provider to see if this is an option.

Learning family history

Finally, breast awareness is knowing the risk factors, such as one’s family history of breast cancer. It’s important to note that most individuals who get breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease. However, females who have close blood relatives with breast cancer may have a higher risk.

  • Having a first-degree relative (mother, sister or daughter) with breast cancer almost doubles a female’s risk. Having two first-degree relatives increases risk by about three-fold.
  • Females with a father or brother who has had breast cancer also have a higher risk of breast cancer.
  • Patients with a family history of breast cancer may be eligible for genetic testing.

Remember, breast awareness surrounding breast cancer is critical as early detection, often through screening, can catch the disease when it is most treatable.

The Breast Program at Summa Health gives patients coordinated access to high-quality, personalized care for breast concerns, including benign conditions, abnormal mammograms, diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. Summa Health’s multidisciplinary team works with patients to develop an individualized prevention, screening and risk reduction evaluation.

To learn more, visit summahealth.org/breast.

Members of the editorial and news staff of USA TODAY Network were not involved in the creation of this content.

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