October 11, 2013
Pink Power For Boobs
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Every year, people walk or run in fundraising 5Ks, half marathons, full marathons, and events that promote the cure. This is a month to promote awareness as well as celebrate our loved ones who have suffered from breast cancer.
As part of my effort to promote breast cancer awareness, I wanted to write about early detection, which is crucial to defeating breast cancer. Last year, I wrote a general blog about this month, so this year I wanted to take it an educational step further. So let’s jump into it.
Cancer Treatment Centers of America identify the two typical types of breast cancer: noninvasive and invasive.
Noninvasive breast cancer, also called in situ, is one where “Cancerous cells remain in a particular location of the breast, without spreading to surrounding tissue, lobules or ducts.” Invasive, otherwise called infiltrating, happens when “Cancerous cells break through normal breast tissue barriers and spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream and lymph nodes.” Obviously, the invasive type gives more alarm although both are serious.
Other classifications of breast cancer focus on where in the breast the cancer began, how it grows, and several other factors. Some of these include Paget’s disease of the nipple, sarcoma of the breast, medullary carcinoma, tubular carcinoma, mucinous carcinoma, metaplastic carcinoma, adenocystic carcinoma, phyllodes tumor, and angiosarcoma.
As the National Breast Cancer website states, “The best way to fight breast cancer is to have a plan that helps you detect the disease in its early stages.” In order to help women do that, the website provides tools to help women better understand early detection and create an early detection plan. So what is a good plan? Well, it consists of three steps:
- Clinical exam
As the National Breast Cancer webpage on self-exams says it is important that once a month women complete a self-exam where they check their own bodies for abnormalities. The American Cancer Society describes how to perform a self-exam.
Lie down on your back and place your right arm behind your head. The exam is done while lying down, not standing up. This is because when lying down the breast tissue spreads evenly over the chest wall and is as thin as possible, making it much easier to feel all the breast tissue.
Use the finger pads of the 3 middle fingers on your left hand to feel for lumps in the right breast. Use overlapping dime-sized circular motions of the finger pads to feel the breast tissue.
Use 3 different levels of pressure to feel all the breast tissue. Light pressure is needed to feel the tissue closest to the skin; medium pressure to feel a little deeper; and firm pressure to feel the tissue closest to the chest and ribs. It is normal to feel a firm ridge in the lower curve of each breast, but you should tell your doctor if you feel anything else out of the ordinary. If you’re not sure how hard to press, talk with your doctor or nurse. Use each pressure level to feel the breast tissue before moving on to the next spot.
Move around the breast in an up and down pattern starting at an imaginary line drawn straight down your side from the underarm and moving across the breast to the middle of the chest bone (sternum or breastbone). Be sure to check the entire breast area going down until you feel only ribs and up to the neck or collar bone (clavicle).
There is some evidence to suggest that the up-and-down pattern (sometimes called the vertical pattern) is the most effective pattern for covering the entire breast without missing any breast tissue.
Repeat the exam on your left breast, putting your left arm behind your head and using the finger pads of your right hand to do the exam.
While standing in front of a mirror with your hands pressing firmly down on your hips, look at your breasts for any changes of size, shape, contour, or dimpling, or redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin. (The pressing down on the hips position contracts the chest wall muscles and enhances any breast changes.)
Examine each underarm while sitting up or standing and with your arm only slightly raised so you can easily feel in this area. Raising your arm straight up tightens the tissue in this area and makes it harder to examine.
Simply put, this is the part of the early detection plan where a health professional like a doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant, performs a medical exam. These should happen at least yearly or if you find anything suspicious in your self-exams.
As the American Cancer Society defines, “A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast. A diagnostic mammogram is used to diagnose breast disease in women who have breast symptoms or an abnormal result on a screening mammogram. Screening mammograms are used to look for breast disease in women who are asymptomatic; that is, those who appear to have no breast problems.” A qualified medical professional must perform this. After this, women move out of early detection plans and into more serious detection and even diagnosis.
The early detection plan is necessary for protecting ourselves. The more we understand of our own bodies, the easier it will be to detect abnormalities to ask our doctors about. Early detection is crucial to survival. Check out the National Breast Cancer website for more information on early detection.
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