The Importance of breast cancer screening

Megan Jewell, MD

The reminder to schedule a breast cancer screening test comes on strong during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. This month, let each splash of pink you see be an encouragement to get screened with a self-exam, physician exam, or a mammogram.

It’s also a good time to get a feel for your own unique breast density, and establish a baseline to help identify warning signs of breast cancer, including:

– A lump in the breast or armpit
– Swelling or thickening of all or part of the breast
– Dimpling or skin irritation of breast skin
– Localized, persistent breast pain
– Redness, scaliness or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
– Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
– Any change in the size or shape of the breast Some patients experience one or more of these symptoms, while others experience none.

Performing monthly self-checks, talking to your care provider about concerns, and scheduling a screening are ways to be proactive about breast health. Breast cancer screening is the most reliable way to detect the disease, when it’s at an early stage and is most treatable. Overall, patients are experiencing better outcomes as a result of advances in medical technology, treatment options, and less extensive surgery.

After skin cancers, breast cancer is the most common cancer among U.S. women, according to the American Cancer Society. The average risk of breast cancer for an American woman is about 13%, or a 1 in 8 chance. The chance that a woman will die from breast cancer is 1 in 39 (about 2.5%). Different factors impact the likelihood of breast cancer, including race, lifestyle, and family history. Because of this, it’s important to speak with your provider about when to start getting mammography screening, and how often.

Here at Lake Tahoe, our community has access to the latest in mammogram technology with Barton’s 3D tomosynthesis machine, as well as Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), which significantly improves the cancer detection rate via increased scanning details and detection capabilities. 3D mammograms provide higher quality images, saving the patient time as well decreasing radiation exposure by almost 50%.

Women should receive their mammography screening beginning at age 40 unless instructed otherwise by your provider. If you have not started screening in your forties, you should begin having mammography no later than age 50 years, and screening should continue until at least age 75 years of age. If you have a strong family history of breast cancer, your screening recommendations may be different. Talk to your doctor to determine your individual risks and a screening schedule that is appropriate for you.

Dr. Megan Jewell is a board-certified OB/GYN physician at Barton OB/GYN. The team of OB/GYNs and Certified Nurse Midwives at Barton OB/GYN provide comprehensive women’s health services at two convenient office locations in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. and Minden, Nev. To make an appointment, call 530.543.5711.

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