More than 200,000 women in the United States get breast cancer each year. You may be more likely to get breast cancer if you:
- Have a mother or sister who had breast cancer
- Had your first menstrual period before you were 12
- Stopped having periods after you were 50
- Never had children or had your first child when you were over 30
- Have had radiation treatments to your chest area
You are more likely to get breast cancer as you get older. Remember that some women who get breast cancer do not have any of these risks. That is why mammograms are so important.
What is a Mammogram?
A mammogram is a special kind of X-ray of the breasts. Mammograms are used to help find breast cancer early, when it can still be cured. You usually need to go to a special clinic to get a mammogram.
Mammograms are recommended for women over 40 years old even if they have no signs of breast cancer. They are also recommended for younger women who have symptoms of breast cancer or who have a high risk of getting breast cancer.
Why are Mammograms Important?
A mammogram can save your life. Mammograms can show tumors that may be cancer long before they can be felt. Treating tumors when they are still small makes curing cancer easier.
What if My Mammogram Shows a Problem?
Mammograms can show if the inside of the breast looks normal. But a mammogram cannot show for sure whether you have breast cancer.
If you have a mammogram that does not look normal, your doctor will probably suggest a biopsy - a tissue sample of the breast. A biopsy is minor surgery. The breast tissue from a biopsy is tested in a laboratory to see if it is cancerous.
Remember, just because a problem area shows up on your mammogram that does not mean you have cancer. Cancer can only be diagnosed by a lab test on tissue from your breast.
Do You Have More Questions?
If you have more questions, talk to your doctor. Your doctor can arrange for you to have a mammogram. If you do not know your doctor’s name or telephone number, call Customer Service at the number on the back of your ID card.
Examinations are Important.
It is important to have a doctor examine your breasts at least once a year. It is also important to examine your breasts yourself once a month. You may find it is easiest to do this at the same time each month, like when your menstrual period ends.
How to Examine Your Breasts:
- Look at your breasts in a mirror to see if there is anything you have not noticed before such as:
- Discharge from the nipples
- Change in how the nipple looks
- Change in how the skin looks
- Keep looking in the mirror. Join your hands behind your head. Press them gently against the back of your neck. Are there any changes from last month in how your breasts look?
- Keep looking in the mirror and press your hands on your hips. Bow slightly forward, pull your shoulders and elbows forward. Look for changes since last month in how your breasts look.
- Do this exam when you are in the shower and your skin is soapy: Raise your left arm. Using three or four fingers of your right hand, begin at the outer edge of your breast. Press your fingers firmly into your breast. Slowly move your hand in circles until you reach the nipple. Make sure you examine the entire breast. Examine the area between the breast and armpit in the same way. Then examine the armpit itself. Do you feel any lump under the skin? Gently squeeze the nipple. Is there any discharge? Raise your right arm. Examine your right breast with your left hand.
- Get out of the shower, dry off, and lie down on your back. Repeat the same exam as in #4.
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