For the 14 years that I’ve been performing mammograms, I’ve encouraged women to do their breast self-exams. Monthly breast self-exams have always been a part of the three recommended steps to breast cancer prevention. Most women have probably seen shower cards and other material that illustrate the proper way to perform a breast self-exam. If you have not, please take a few moments to learn more about this important self-exam here.
It’s important to know that the breast self-exam is still a valued tool for early cancer detection. In recent years, there have also been so many advances in the world of mammography, from digital mammogram capabilities to the availability of 3D mammograms. It’s also important to realize that people can be just as different as the rapidly evolving technology.
Many breast health organizations have created literature on “Know Your Normal.” “Knowing your normal” simply means being aware of your own body — and what normal means for you. It’s important to be aware of what feels and looks normal on your body – that way, if any breast changes become apparent, you can take quick action and seek help. Quick action and response to changes can lead to early cancer detection and may save your life. Every woman is unique and special in her own way, and we all need to know our own bodies. Cancer can reveal itself in different ways to different people, and the warning signs of breast cancer are not the same for all women. You need to know what is normal for your breasts and nipples and note any changes.
Some breast changes to look for include:
- Thickening or swelling of tissue on the breasts or underarms
- Redness or darkening of breasts
- Dimpling or puckering skin
- Nipple retraction (turning inward)
- Persistent, localized pain
- Itchy or scaly rash on the nipple or breast skin
- Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
While nipple discharge can be uncomfortable, it’s rarely cancer. It may be just a sign of an infection or other underlying condition that needs to be treated. Much of the time, breast changes are not cancerous, but the only way to know for certain is a visit to your healthcare provider. It’s also helpful to use descriptive words about a new finding in your breasts. Words such as firm, spongy, thick, etc. make for great descriptions. Although I’m pretty new to Austin, I’ve heard the saying, “Keep Austin Weird.” But when it comes to breast health, let’s keep Austin “NORMAL.”
By: Lori Garza RT (R)(M)
The Breast Center at St. David’s Medical Center