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Breast Cancer Awareness Month: A Look at Mammograms
Photo courtesy of cdc.gov
What Is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer occurs when cells in the breast grow out of control. Breasts are made up of three parts: lobules, which produce milk; ducts, which carry milk to the nipple; and connective tissue, which holds everything together. Breast cancer can originate in any of those parts, although most begin in the ducts or lobules.
Symptoms of breast cancer may include the following:
- New lump in the breast or underarm
- Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
- Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
- Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast
- Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood
- Any change in the size or shape of the breast
- Pain in any area of the breast
Severity of symptoms varies among women, and some women may not have symptoms at all. That's why breast cancer screening, checking a woman's breasts for cancer before signs or symptoms appear, is so important.
Breast Cancer Screening
Breast cancer screening cannot prevent breast cancer, but it may find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat. Screenings include mammograms, breast ultrasounds, breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and clinical breast exams (CBE).
Photo courtesy of cdc.gov
Mammograms: What You Need to Know
A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast, and according to the CDC, is the best breast cancer screening method for most women. During a mammogram, a special x-ray machine is used to obtain multiple images of your breasts. Plates compress the breast from above and below, and then on either side, to obtain the necessary images.
Having a mammogram can be uncomfortable because of the pressure of the plates, but most mammograms take only a few moments. In order to minimize discomfort, follow these tips for getting a mammogram:
- Don't schedule your mammogram during the week prior to, or during your period, as your breasts may be more tender or swollen.
- Don't wear deodorant, perfume, or powder; these may show up as white spots on your x-ray.
- You will need to undress from the waist up for your mammogram, so you may be more comfortable in pants or a skirt with a top, rather than a dress.
It's important to discuss your breast cancer risk and screening options with your healthcare provider well before the age of 50, but generally, mammography screening is recommended for women age 50 and above. Find more detailed screening recommendations from the American Cancer Society, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
If you want to start breast cancer screening, call your doctor's office for help scheduling an appointment. Most insurance plans are required to cover mammograms every one to two years for women age 40 and older.
Photo courtesy of nj.gov
The New Jersey Cancer Education and Early Detection (NJCEED) Program offers screening mammograms to uninsured or underinsured residents of Sussex County. If you are worried about the cost of a screening mammogram because of your insurance status, reach out to the Sussex County Office of Public Health Nursing NJCEED Program at 973-579-0570, extension 1246 or 1214 for more information and to find out if you qualify. Visit the Sussex County Public Health Nursing website to learn more about mammograms and other screening services offered by the NJCEED Program.