Most women have about a 13% risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. Although all forms of cancer can be deadly without intervention, breast cancer responds well to therapies and can even be cured if found early enough.
Regular screening has helped lower the death rates from cancer over the last century. One of the simplest and easiest screenings to keep you safe is a breast exam.
At Enrich Family Practice in Odessa, Texas, we include breast exams as part of your well-woman annual check-up. Our sensitive and expert nurse practitioners — Maria Cole, APRN, FNP-C, and Kelly Wenger, APRN, FNP-C — visually and manually examine your breasts and refer you for mammograms and other studies when needed. Here’s why.
Breast exams are simple and safe
A breast exam is one of the simplest and easiest ways for both you and us to become familiar with your breasts so we can detect abnormalities when they arise. In addition to your annual breast exam at Maria Cole, you should examine your own breasts every month and contact us if you notice a change.
During your breast exam, we perform the following steps, which you can then replicate at home:
- Gently feel and palpate each entire breast
- Press into your armpit area
- Squeeze your nipples for discharge
You should perform your exam in the mirror so you get used to how your breasts look in relation to one another. One may be smaller than the other, for instance. When you become familiar with your breasts, you’re more likely to notice when something is different.
Breast exams help identify changes
When we or you examine your breasts, the goal is to identify anything that may have changed since your last exam. Changes that could require further investigation include:
- Breasts changed size or shape
- Nipple changed size or shape
- Growth, lesion, or wound on breast or nipple
- Lumps in breasts or armpits
- Discharge from nipples
- Any bleeding or rashes
If you notice a change during a self-exam, call us so we can take a closer look.
Early detection saves lives
In addition to monthly self-exams and annual well-woman breast exams at Enrich Family Practice, you may also need regular mammograms or other screening techniques, depending on your age and risk status. Mammograms look inside your breasts to identify lumps, lesions, and possible cancers at their earliest stages.
If we detect a lump or abnormality, we may take a biopsy — a small sample of breast tissue. We send the biopsy to the lab for analysis. If it comes back positive for cancer, we then refer you to an oncologist and possibly a surgeon for treatment.
The good news about early detection through breast exams and mammograms is that breast cancer can usually be cured when it’s caught early enough. Cancer treatments have also evolved over the years to lower mortality significantly.
When to start mammograms
A mammogram is a type of X-ray that looks inside your breast tissue for abnormalities. The American Cancer Society makes the following recommendations for mammograms for women at average risk:
- Before age 40 – mammograms unnecessary for average risk
- Ages 40-44 — annual mammograms, if desired
- Ages 45-54 — annual mammograms recommended
- Age 55 and up — mammograms every two years (or you can continue with annual tests)
If your family members tend to live long lives and you’re healthy, you may want to continue getting mammograms every year or two as you age. However, if you don’t expect to live for another 10 years or more, you can safely discontinue mammograms.
When your risk for breast cancer is higher than normal due to genetic factors, we may recommend a breast MRI or ultrasound, too. Women with dense breasts could benefit from 3-D mammograms.
Make breast exams part of your routine
The idea of breast cancer is scary. But breast exams shouldn’t be. By scheduling them as part of your regular self-care — both at home and during your annual well-woman exams — you move one step closer to ensuring your long-term breast health and overall health, too.
To book your well-woman exam or to get a referral for a mammogram or breast MRI, call our team at 432-200-9087 or reach us with our online message form.