By: Red Hot Mamas
Published: May 26, 2010
Written by Douglas Penta M.D.
There are many reasons why breast self-examination is so important.
1.) It is often said “knowledge is power” and this is one instance where such a statement is absolutely true. Breast cancer affects one in eight woman … it is crucial that every women take the time to learn about the facts relating to breast self-examination that can dramatically impact their lives whether it be the benefits of BSE or an understanding of other preventive measures. Not only will you benefit from early detection should you have a problem, you will also gain a “piece of mind”. Although this benefit cannot be measured directly, we do know that chronic stress and anxiety is not good for anyone and does play a role in many chronic health problems.
2.) Breast self examination, promotes awareness about breast cancer as well as other less serious breast conditions (cysts etc.). Women are not doing exams because of their concerns about what they may find when the findings may not ultimately be a serious concern. The anxiety is real and understandable. However, after your “first” baseline self- examination… regular breast self-examinations can help one become familiar with the findings and changes unique to their exam. This leads to a level of control over your health that can be empowering and make you want to share what you have learned with others.
3.) Early detection does save lives and as one who has witnessed this time and again I cannot stress enough the importance of breast self-examination. I have been a part of so many wonderful stories relating to breast cancer detection as are many clinicians who deal with breast cancer diagnosis in their practice. There is nothing more rewarding than to see patients each year whose lives have benefited from early detection as a result of findings noted on an examination. This includes those findings noted by the patient who have come in unscheduled for an evaluation as well as those detected on a routine annual examination or as an incidental finding (noted in the patient story below) as part of an unscheduled exam. For me, some of the most impressionable experiences have been the incidental findings during an unscheduled examination.
I will end with one of these most memorable experiences as a physician. One that encompasses much of what is stated about breast cancer and the concerns that can delay detection and favorable outcomes. As a physician, I am very fortunate to have experiences like this, which emphasizes the importance of breast exams to my patients and reminds myself (if I was to ever to have a doubt) of its importance.
During a preoperative examination for a hysterectomy I noted a lump (incidentally) in a 33 year old woman. When I asked her about it and whether she was aware of it, she told me she had been aware of it for a while and was too worried to have it checked out (please think about this: she did not mention to me at the time of this exam which most would think would be an optimal time to address such a concern). She is a wonderful person, intelligent and hard-working and I had known her for some time due to other gynecologic problems (requiring the hysterectomy). The lump was cancer and fortunately did not involve lymph nodes and she is considered cured. Needless to say, there are patients such as this that physicians never forget and I always liked to see her for routine follow-up knowing that I had impacted her life the way I did. One only has to think of how this scenario could have been different if the lump was not detected on this routine preoperative exam and later presented advanced and incurable.
From the patients perspective, think of how this women might have been reassured by the fact that her doctor didn’t notice anything (knowing it was there) and thus concluding to herself that it must have been nothing. I cannot stress enough that an annual exam or any office exam is only one arbitrary moment in time. A breast exam done by your clinician is no more powerful and in many ways less so than what you can do for yourself as you will be aware of the relative changes and your baseline examination.
Unfortunately, most individuals are not involved with such powerful experiences about the importance of breast self exam until it is no longer about prevention . Instead the conversation becomes one about staging and intervention and the hope for a cure.
Douglas Penta M.D. is an OB/GYN educator who actively provides information on women’s health on the Web. His Twitter site has over 40,000 followers!
* A Red Hot Mamas Note Regarding NEW Mammography Guidelines:
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in American women. There are more than 192,000 new cases and 40,000 deaths from the disease expected in the U.S. this year. And, if mammograms aren’t stressful enough, now they are creating even more confusion as to when they are needed to be taken.
It’s becoming an extremely heated debate which is leaving many women deeply confused. The American Cancer Society has been recommending annual mammograms beginning at age 40. But, now a government panel of doctors and scientists claim getting screened for breast cancer so early, and so often, may be harmful and may cause too many false alarms, unneeded biopsies without substantially improving a woman’s odds of surviving the disease.
The new guidelines issued by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force are for the general population and not those women who are at high risk of breast cancer because of a family history or gene mutations. Those individuals should have mammograms sooner or more often.
The new advice on the guidelines says:
- Most women in their 40s should not routinely get mammograms
- Women 50 to 74 should get a mammogram every other year until they turn 75, after which the risks and benefits are unknown.
The American Cancer Society is still holding strong on their recommendation and is sharply criticizing the new guidelines. The cancer society still feels the benefits outweight the risks.
Red Hot Mamas recommends you discuss these new guidelines with your clinician. It is our concern that with so many worries about timing of mammograms and safety, that many women will neglect getting this important screening and abandon breast self examinations.