Mammograms save Lives! Schedule Yours at PCRMC Today
The most important thing any woman can do to guard against breast cancer is to get her yearly mammogram. Beginning at age 40, the American Cancer Society (ACS) strongly recommends that women receive yearly mammograms.
Why is getting a yearly mammogram so important? Helen Litz, RN, MSN, CS, FNP, nurse practitioner at PCRMC’s Comprehensive Breast Center, explains.
“When breast cancer is found with a mammogram, but a patient has not yet noticed a lump or any changes in her breast, the cancer is usually in an early stage,” Litz says. “Early stages of breast cancer often cannot be felt by self or clinical examination. If we can catch breast cancer in its earliest stages, it is easier to treat and there are usually a wider variety of treatment options available to the patient.”
Early stages of breast cancer are less likely to have metastasized (spread to other organs) than later stages. Breast cancer can spread to the lymph nodes, and then into the bone, chest wall and other areas of the body.
Litz advises women to get a mammogram the year they turn 40 and every year afterwards. “Another important thing to remember is that you are never too old to get a mammogram,” she says. “75% of people who get breast cancer are age 50 and older.” Litz says that if you are in good health, make sure you get a mammogram every year; there is no age limit.
When it is time to get a mammogram, get one scheduled. “When you turn 40, do not put your mammogram off, no matter how busy you are,” Litz advises. “It is important to establish a baseline to compare mammograms from year-to-year.”
Litz says women over 40 do not need to have a referring physician to schedule a mammogram, but they do need to establish a physician that they would like the results sent to.
Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam by your physician once every three years as part of their well-woman exam, and should also perform monthly self-exams, beginning in their 20s.
“As a general rule, be sure to have any abnormal feelings or symptoms in your breast checked immediately,” Litz points out. “This is true for men as well; breast cancer in men is rare, but does happen. Men should also pay attention and if they see any changes, schedule an appointment with their physician.”
Litz says some women avoid yearly mammograms because they are afraid of experiencing pain during breast compression. There are several ways to reduce the level of pain you may feel during a mammogram. First, avoid caffeine before getting your mammogram. Second, make sure your mammogram is not scheduled close to the beginning of your period, when breasts can be tender. Third, if your breasts are tender, take a mild, over-the-counter pain reliever a couple hours before your mammogram.
“Remember, your breast is compressed for less than 20 seconds,” Litz says. “It may be a couple seconds of discomfort and pressure, but it can potentially save your life.”
Fear of finding out that you have cancer is another reason some women do not get a yearly mammogram.
“It’s important to find breast cancer early, so it can be properly treated,” Litz says. “The survival rates are good for women who are diagnosed with breast cancer in early stages. Don’t let fear hinder your health.”
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