Thursday, September 1, 2011

Self Exams, Mammograms, Ultrasound, & MRI

Early detection of breast cancer makes all the difference in the world.  Really!  The advancement in treatment is amazing, and the options available for successful outcomes are so much better with early detection.  Sadly, breast cancer in young women, women under 40, is very hard to detect because of the density of our breast tissue.  Often, as in my case, the cancer is not detected until it is at an advanced stage.

Breast cancer in women under 40 only makes up 5 – 7 % of the cases. So women under 40 often fall between the cracks.  Yearly mammograms aren’t suggested until the age of 40.  However, I must add that a mammogram for younger women is not the best tool for detection.  So having one earlier may not detect the cancer.  This is because the dense breast tissue appears as a white area – the same as a problem spot would.

My grandmother died of breast cancer at the age of 49, I never knew her, but it inspired me to be more diligent in checking myself.  I was very good at remembering to do breast self exams in the shower, and of course a clinical breast exam on my yearly physical.  Oddly enough I had felt my lump from time to time, but it would seem to come and go.  I had talked to my primary doctor about it, but she and I both concluded that it was fibroid cysts as my mother has.  Once my tumor was consistently noticeable to the touch, my doctor scheduled a mammogram followed by an ultrasound.  The ultrasound helped to get a better idea of the size and location.  My surgeon then sent me for an MRI to get an even better image.  The MRI gave a much clearer outline of the mass as well it showed a similar mass in the same location on my other breast.  This was the first time anything in my other breast had been detected.  It was not noticeable in the mammogram or ultrasound, and I could barely notice it myself even after I knew it was there.

Here again, knowledge is power!  Take an active role in early detection.  Below are a few links that go into great detail as to how and what you can do to be your own best advocate in breast health.

Breast Self Awareness - scroll to the bottom of page and click on "view the online BSA tool" for a very detailed video of a breast exam.
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