Self-exam still key to detecting breast cancer early

Staff reports

Many of us know someone who has been touched by breast cancer, but a majority of women spend much of their time taking care of the needs of their families. Many times women put themselves last when they pursue healthcare. Symptoms are just brushed aside, suffered through, and put up with, month after month and sometimes year after year until it is too late.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide. It kills 500,000 people every year and is diagnosed in close to 1.3 million people around the world.

Screening offers a chance to detect cancer early when it is most curable. In fact, the five-year survival rate of a stage-one breast cancer diagnosis is 98 percent. Mammography is a good screening test for breast cancer; but monthly self-exam and annual exam by your doctor is also part of screening.

Conducting a breast self-exam at least once a month and getting a mammogram once a year after age 40 are simple measures that can save lives. But for many, these simple life-saving techniques are all too often forgotten or entirely unaffordable.

"Women find their own early stage breast cancer through self-exams all of the time," says Dr. Philip Neal, Gynecologist at Thibodaux Regional Medical Center. "Detecting breast cancer early means that it's curable, and that's the most important part."

A lump that a woman or doctor can feel in a woman’s breast is very important, even if it does not show up on a mammogram. If a woman feels a nodule in her breast or if her breast becomes red or swollen and does not clear up in a few days, she should see her doctor about this right away.

“Screening mammograms are really for women with NO lumps or other symptoms,” said Jay Fakier, Radiologist at Thibodaux Regional. “Breast cancer found in its earliest stages offers the greatest chance of remission and survival, and a mammogram can detect cancer as much as a year or two before you or your doctor can feel it.”

The American Cancer Society recommends the following guidelines for most women:

• Ages 20 to 39

o Have a clinical breast exam by a healthcare professional every three years

o Be aware of what your breasts normally look and feel like, and report any changes or new breast symptoms to a doctor or nurse right away. Breast self-exam is an option.

• Ages 40 and over

o Get a mammogram every year

o Have a yearly clinical breast exam by a healthcare professional, near the time of the mammogram

o Report any breast changes, including changes in how the skin looks or feels, to your healthcare provider right away. Breast self-exam is an option.