October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Unfortunately, this cancer continues to be the most common among American women, with 255,000 women receiving this diagnosis yearly. Over the lifetime, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Men can also develop breast cancer, but it is much less common. Currently, 1 out of every 100 new breast cancer diagnoses occur in men.
As with many other cancers, early detection and treatment are essential for the best possible outcome. Women are encouraged to start monthly self-breast exams by the time they are in their early 20’s. To successfully complete a self breast exam, women are to touch all aspects of the breast, including the “tail” of tissue leading from the upper outer breast to the underarm. The woman is to check for changes in the size or shape of either breast. She is also looking for any areas of pain, nipple discharge or new lumps or bumps.
Once a woman turns 40, she is encouraged to obtain breast imaging. The gold standard for breast cancer imaging is a mammogram. In this procedure, the breast tissue is compressed and an x-ray image is obtained. This can identify different densities and masses in the breast. Another breast imaging tool is thermography. Thermography uses infrared technology to show patterns of heat on or near the surface of the body. Any “hot spots'' would then require further testing.
~Emily Roling, Family Nurse Practitioner