Screenings and prevention – those are the first words that come to mind for two Minden physicians when they think of breast cancer awareness.
October is breast cancer awareness month, and Dr. Denise Webb, family practitioner, and Dr. Clay Maraist, OB/GYN, say regular self-breast exams and knowing your body is key in prevention or early detection of breast cancer.
“The big age that we think of is 40,” Maraist said. “Usually at 40, it’s recommended that women get annual mammograms. That is the bread and butter of what we do for breast cancer screening.”
Webb says prevention is key, and a woman needs to know what’s normal for them through regular self-breast exams.
“The screenings are very important, even for our younger population,” she said. “Knowing your body, doing the self exams on a regular basis; and the other thing is knowing your risk factors, your family history – the things that go into putting you at a higher risk of developing breast cancer.”
When performing a self-exam, Maraist says to look for any kind of abnormal changes, such as lumps or bumps, discharge, and any changes in nipple positioning. He says sometimes changes in nipple positioning can be an indicator of something going on. Webb added that women need to look for changes in skin color or the shape of the breast as well.
Mammograms are procedures where radiologists take X-rays of the breasts. Webb says they are looking for abnormal changes in the breasts, such as masses or to do comparisons if women have annual exams.
“This is why mammograms are so important,” Maraist said. “There are two types of mammograms. One is a screening mammogram and the other is a diagnostic mammogram. Usually if you are coming in for a diagnostic mammogram, you’re usually having some kind of problem. The only thing different is they might take three views (for a diagnostic mammogram).”
Webb says there may be additional imaging done, such as an ultrasound.
Women who procrastinate on getting mammograms say fear of the exam itself is a common factor for not getting one, Webb and Maraist say.
“The testing may be uncomfortable, but at the same time, I put it to my patients this way, Yes, it’s a couple of minutes of discomfort, but cancer is a lot more uncomfortable,” she said.
“It’s better for us to find something than for it to find you. It’s way more involved if it finds you.”
“If you had a mammogram with a little discomfort, your mind would be at ease for the rest of the year,” Maraist said. “You wouldn’t have to worry about it for another year.”
With today’s technology, mammograms are a little more comfortable than they used to be, they said.
Cancer is the abnormal growth of cells, the physicians said. Breast cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in the breasts. They say it’s important to note that men are not immune to developing breast cancer. It’s also important to note that genetics play a role in the risk factors as well.
“We often focus on women, but both men and women have breast tissue, meaning men can have breast cancer,” Webb said.
“That’s why the self-exams are so important. Mammograms are important, knowing what your body is like and knowing your background and what your risk factors are.”
Statistics show that in 2015, nearly 232,000 American women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. That means they become part of the 2.8 million people living with the disease or a history of it.
Maraist says that if it is caught early, people diagnosed can have relatively good outcomes.
“If you catch it early, sometimes just taking that mass out can be curative if not a lifelong treatment for it,” he said.
“This October, Minden Medical Center and our partnering providers will proudly join hundreds of other businesses, organizations, celebrities and even professional athletic teams in celebrating the 30th anniversary of Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” according to an MMC news release. “Launched in 1985 through a partnership between the American Cancer Society and the pharmaceutical division of Imperial Chemical Industries, the goal remains simple: to raise awareness of breast cancer and fight the disease through early detection.”
Dr. Webb will be putting on a community wide scavenger hunt in an effort to raise awareness. Weekly clues will be published in the newspaper.
At MMC, a mammogram is a simple 25-minute procedure and is offered as an outpatient service in their Breast Care Center.
“The center is equipped with safe and advanced technology,”
MMC officials say. “The center is staffed exclusively by registered women technologists who can show special consideration because they understand your feelings and your need for privacy first hand.”
Determining your risk
There are several factors that can increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer. These include:
>> Being over the age of 50,
>> A family history of breast cancer,
>> Being overweight,
>> Lack of exercise,
>> An unhealthy diet,
>> Alcohol intake of more than two drinks per day,
>> Early onset of menstruation,
>> Not having a pregnancy before the age of 35.
For people who display one or more of the risk factors, it is important to understand and be able to detect the symptoms. While breast cancer often has no symptoms in its early stages, the following symptoms may be present as a tumor develops:
>> A lump in the breast or underarm that persists after your menstrual cycle,
>> A marble-like area under the skin,
>> Swelling in the armpit,
>> Persistent breast pain or tenderness,
>> Any change in the size, contour, texture or temperature of the breast,
>> A noticeable flattening or indentation on the breast,
>> A change in the nipple, such as an indrawn or dimpled look, itching or burning sensation, or ulceration,
>> Unusual discharge from the nipple.
Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who find a lump in their breast, so establishing a regular breast self-exam routine is essential. The National Breast Cancer Foundation recommends that women conduct breast self-exams once a month.
>> In the shower: Circle each breast with finger pads from the outside to center. You are checking for a lump, thickening or hardened knot.
>> Lying down: Raise one arm overhead and check that side with the opposite hand. Move fingers in a small circular motion on breasts, using light, medium and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Switch sides.
>> In the mirror: Visually inspect your breasts. Raise your arms high and look for changes in the contour, any swelling, or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples. Continue checking while putting arms at your side and squeezing chest muscles.
Call 371-2166 to schedule your mammogram with Minden Medical Center or request an appointment online by visiting www.mindenmedicalcenter.com/registeronline.
Extended Hours – To better accommodate busy schedules, Minden Medical Center is offering screening mammograms on Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. in addition to Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.
Free mammograms are available at Minden Medical Center to women age 40 or older, who do not have private insurance, Medicaid or Medicare. To see if you qualify, call 371-4434.