October has come to an end, since 1985 October has served as breast cancer awareness month, but just because its now November, doesn’t mean we can just forget about the importance of checking our breasts monthly for lumps, and getting a mammogram yearly. According to the Center For Disease Control, ( CDC), breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer in women of any race or ethnicity. Men aren’t left out, they can also get breast cancer ( at a much lower rate). AEDIT.com devoted much of their coverage in October to breast cancer awareness, from expert guides to mastectomies and reconstructive breast surgery to powerful patient perspectives and roundups of products that give back.
Breast Cancer Awarness
Breast cancer awareness has become so mainstream in recent years with everyone from celebrities, to the NFL dedicating time and resources to support the cause. Men and women alike are becoming increasingly aware of the warning signs and symptoms. Women especially are encouraged to regularly conduct their own self breast exams and may even ask their partners to let them know if they notice any changes, too. What happens if/and when you find a lump?
Breast cancer has such a high profile and statistics, like 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed in their lifetime and people are often fearful to seek medical advice after noticing a change in their breast tissue because they assume the worst. While it is absolutely important that you get any strange lump checked out by a medical professional, it is also important to remember that 80-85 percent of lumps found in women under 40 are benign and caused by fibrocystic changes, cysts, fibroadenomas, or fat necrosis to name a few. Now with this in mind, it is important to understand the function and importance of self breast exams. AEDIT.com has already shared a few of the stories of resilient mastectomy patients, who have undergone reconstructive surgery, which you can check out here and here, and in this article The AEDITION speaks to women who found a lump and decided to do something about it.
Basics Of Self Exams
For women with no family history of breast cancer, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises people in their twenties and thirties have a breast examination carried out by a healthcare provider every one or three years. The American Cancer Society, meanwhile, recommends annual mammograms for women between the ages of 40 and 55. Women over 55 can switch to mammograms every two years or continue with yearly screenings. But that doesn’t mean you should just sit around for your next trip to the gynecologist. Women are encouraged to conduct a self exam at least once per month, but you should try not to do it around the time of your menstrual cycle, because benign lumps are known to appear at this time, so do it before or after, but its important to do it around the same time every month. During the exam, it is important to be on the lookout for any changes in the appearance of both the exterior breast (skin, areola, and nipple) and the interior tissue. Things to feel and look for include:
- A change in how the breast skin looks or feels, such as puckering or dimpling
- A visible change in the shape or size of the nipple or breast
- Any areas that are visibly different that the rest of the breast tissue
- Soreness, redness, or rashes in the underarm area or breast itself
- A lump (can be a small as the size of a pea) that persists in the breast or underarm area
If you notice any of these changes or changes that are different to your version of normal, its important to consult a medical professional. Chances are it may be simple to treat, but early detection is key here, so don’t hesitate just get checked out.
There are no two ways about it, noticing a change or a lump can be alarming to say the least, but that is not an excuse for inaction. Here, The AEDITION speaks to three women who lived through a breast cancer scare about their experiences and why they encourage everyone to consult a doctor as soon as they notice something isn’t quite right.
Anna, 29, Los Angeles
The AEDITION: What caused you to become concerned about your breasts?
Anna: I was at college and aware that I needed to check myself every so often. I didn’t check as often as I now know I should, but one day I was in the bathroom and found a lump. It was probably around the size of an olive. I panicked and decided I wouldn’t tell anyone. My theory was that if I ignored it, it would go away. I would prove to myself that it wasn’t anything serious. But after a while, it was still there. A family friend had been diagnosed with cancer recently, so I guess it was on my mind. I made an appointment to see my doctor. At that point, I was convinced the only thing it could be was cancer.
The AEDITION: What happened during your doctor’s appointment?
Anna: I explained to the physician that I found this lump and that I thought I might have breast cancer. I was so anxious, but the doctor took the time to listen to me while I gave my garbled version of events. She then checked the lump herself, which was uncomfortable, but it didn’t take too long. She then asked me whether I had any pain, whether it changed during my cycle, and whether or not I’d noticed any other symptoms. I was referred for an ultrasound — my doctor explained it would give her a clearer idea of what was going on — but she also took some time to reassure me that it could very easily be something simple to treat and not cancer at all.
The AEDITION: What did the next steps look like for you?
Anna: First of all, I told a friend, which was probably the best thing I did throughout the process. She was able to reassure me and she also came with me to my other appointments. I had the ultrasound quite soon after the first appointment. Again, it was uncomfortable in that I’m not keen on being naked in front of random people, but, other than that, it wasn’t painful or anything. About a week after that I went back to the primary care doctor, who explained to me
that it was a cyst. Because it was filled with liquid and not solid, I didn’t even need to have a biopsy. She told me to keep an eye on it, and if it became painful, they could offer me some other treatment options. That was about four years ago now, and I haven’t had any problems since. I do check my breasts regularly though, and I’m such an advocate for people getting any concerns checked out quickly.
The AEDITION: What advice do you have for someone who finds themselves in a similar situation?
Anna: I would say do the brave, grown-up thing and get it checked. Don’t bury your head in the sand because, if it is cancer, that’s literally the worst thing you could do. I think the awareness we have of breast cancer is amazing now, but it can make finding an issue so scary because the first thing that comes to mind is cancer. I also think people should share their concerns. Chances are a friend has been through a very similar thing — especially by the time you reach your late twenties. I know so many people who have been through the same panic. It’s best to share with both friends and doctors.
Stephanie, 58, Texas
The AEDITION: Would led you to believe you might have breast cancer?
Stephanie: I was checking my breast, which I do regularly now that I’m older. I felt something a bit different on my right side — almost in my underarm area. I had a sinking feeling when I first felt it and managed to calm myself down enough to have a Google, which, in hindsight, was not my best idea. I was pretty sure what I found could be a sign of breast cancer, and, honestly, I was scared. It took me a few days to gather together the courage to get a consult, but I didn’t want to leave it because I know how important it can be to get a diagnosis as soon as possible.
The AEDITION: What pushed you to visit a doctor?
Stephanie: I think breast cancer awareness has reached this amazing level where most of us know to check ourselves and not to mess around with it if we do find something a bit suspicious. I gave myself a couple of days to accept the potential reality of the situation and went to see my doctor. I explained the situation, and he took a look. Fortunately, the office also has an ultrasound room and I was able to sit and wait for it to come available there and then. I was told I had a liquid-filled cyst, and I was booked in for a biopsy. A couple of days after the biopsy, I received a call from my doctor, who explained what it was. He told me that I had an oil cyst, which can happen when fat is damaged. It wasn’t cancer at all. He praised me for being so reactive when I found it and told me to go and get on with my life — but to keep on checking in the future.
The AEDITION: Did you know about fat necrosis when you initially felt the scar tissue in your breast?
Stephanie: I honestly thought I was well informed about all things breasts, but apparently I was not. I hadn’t ever heard of it. I think it’s really important that, as much as we now all learn about checking for cancer, we also get told about other, far less life-altering issues we could develop in that area. I think it can be reassuring — especially for younger people — to know there are other conditions out there. Finding out quickly can save a lot of stress, but it is also important if it is cancer.
Jennifer, 34, Miami
The AEDITION: Could you give us an idea of the symptoms that led to your concern?
Jennifer: It happened not long before I stopped breastfeeding my daughter, so I was kind of acutely aware of what was going on with my breasts. One of them started to get a little painful and, over time, got somewhat swollen and warm. My main concern was getting it seen quickly. Not only was I in pain, but I was scared that if I left it, I could jeopardize my future with my daughter.
The AEDITION: What was your experience like with your doctor?
Jennifer: I went to see my daughter’s pediatrician for an appointment that had been booked for weeks. While I was there, I broke down in tears and explained what was going on. The doctor was so lovely. She told me it sounded like an infection called mastitis, which is super common for new moms. She explained to me that I just needed some antibiotics and to keep an eye on how it progressed. She was so sweet and completely understood why I was so worried about the situation. Since then, I’ve done a fair bit of research just out of curiosity, and it turns out there are so many breast conditions I had no idea even existed. I think it’s so amazing that cancer awareness pushes people to check themselves and to consult quickly. I’m certain it’s helping to save hundreds of lives every year.
The AEDITION: What advice would you give to someone who is feeling worried about consulting a doctor about a concern they have with their breasts?
Jennifer: I think the concern stems more from the fear of it possibly being something ‘big’ as opposed to the fear of consulting in itself. And I do think that people knowing there are other things the symptoms could point to — aside from cancer — is reassuring on that front. That being said, I think the urgency that has been created from awareness is crucial when it actually is cancer. I think, if you’re concerned, ask for help as soon as possible, but hold on to the fact that 85 percent of lumps and bumps that people consult about are not cancer at all.
First I would like to thank AEDIT.com for allowing me to share this important information with my viewers. Breast cancer awareness month is in October, but the rest of the year it is imperative to perform a self exam monthly and be seen by a medical professional for a yearly check up and mammogram. If you notice anything different, please do not hesitate or put it off. Early detection is key! As always, if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.