What do pro football teams, cereal boxes and your local newspaper have in common? During the month of October all “get their pink on” to promote breast cancer awareness.
At Valley Health, early detection and treatment of breast cancer is a year-round endeavor.
Julian Martinez, MD, with Valley Health Obstetrics and Gynecology, is on the front line of advocacy and education for breast cancer awareness. Like many gynecologists and primary care providers, Dr. Martinez performs routine clinical breast exams and talks to women about the importance of regular mammograms.
“There is some lingering confusion about when to have your first mammogram and how frequently to repeat,” he says. “If you don’t have a family history, I advise to begin annual screening mammograms at age 40. There’s talk out there about the impact of frequent mammography on cancer risk, but that’s ludicrous given the tiny amount of radiation used.”
Christopher Nieman, MD, diagnostic radiologist, is with Winchester Radiologists, whose physicians read imaging tests at all six Valley Health hospitals. He concurs with the recommendation to begin at age 40 with yearly mammogram, perform a monthly self-check for lumps, and have a clinical breast exam by your provider once a year.
“It’s a conversation every woman should have with her doctor,” says Dr. Nieman. “A family history of breast cancer, especially at a younger age, in a first-degree relative (parent, sibling or child) can put you at a higher risk. In these women, we recommend beginning mammography at age 30 and using breast MRI, as well.”
While some women experience a twinge of pain during a mammogram, most mammo veterans concur: the discomfort is fleeting, tolerable and definitely not an excuse for putting off this important diagnostic test. “There’s still fear about mammograms, which makes women reluctant to have them,” notes Dr. Martinez. “But the reality is a mammogram can detect breast cancer at an early stage, when it’s most treatable. Saving your life is a really big deal.”
Both physicians encourage women to not let anxiety over minor discomfort or expense be an excuse for putting off a mammogram. (Valley Health only charges $99 for a screening mammogram if a woman is uninsured.) Mammography is available at Warren Memorial Hospital in Front Royal, Shenandoah Memorial Hospital in Woodstock and Page Memorial Hospital in Luray and now in the town of Shenandoah at Valley Health Page Memorial Hospital Family Medicine.
Dr. Nieman welcomes the opportunity to dispel breast cancer myths:
- Using antiperspirant/deodorant and wearing an underwire bra do not cause breast cancer.
- While caffeine can make some breasts feel lumpier, multiple studies have shown no connection between caffeine consumption and cancer.
- The same goes for the minute amount of radiation exposure during your yearly mammogram.
- If you have had surgical breast enhancement, you have no more risk of breast cancer, and implant damage during a mammogram is extremely rare.
Breast size has no bearing on cancer incidence. However, the density of your breasts, whatever their size, can make it harder to spot cancer. If you have dense breasts, talk with your provider about additional screening methods such as 3D ultrasound, or Automated Breast Ultrasound (ABUS) or breast MRI, offered at Winchester Medical Center.
“About half of all women have dense breasts,” notes Dr. Nieman. “It’s based mostly on genetics, it’s not something you can tell by looking at someone. Valley Health invested in 3D mammography equipment at every hospital and now 90 percent of the women who add 3D ultrasound for dense breast tissue have it covered by their insurance.”
If You Find a Lump
If you find something that doesn’t feel right, take a deep breath. Do not panic. More often than not, it’s a fatty nodule or a non-cancerous mass. If you can wait, go through your menstrual cycle, cut out caffeine and see if the lump is still there in a couple of weeks. Then call your healthcare provider. You may be referred to a breast specialist or sent for additional imaging. If a lump is found, you may need a needle biopsy to take a sample of cells. But this still doesn’t mean it’s cancer: about 80 percent of breast biopsies find benign lumps.
For more information, visit www.valleyhealthlink.com.