Breast cancer might not be easy to prevent, but detecting it early makes it much easier to win the fight.
About one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point. And while there are some risk factors – such as having a mother, sister or daughter diagnosed young – “most instances of breast cancer are sporadic,” said Maj. Eamonn Quinn, radiologist at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital.
With October being National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Blanchfield is urging women 40 and older to get an annual mammogram, which is the best way to detect breast cancer early and protect breast health.
“This is just general health maintenance,” Quinn said of mammograms. “The best way of curing it is catching it as early as possible.”
Having mammograms annually, especially between ages 40 and 50, provide the chance to save the most years of life if diagnosed with breast cancer, he said.
It also helps create a baseline. By having annual tests, radiologists and doctors can compare new readings to old ones to see if there has been any change to examine closer.
Recently, he examined a patient’s mammogram to see a change, so she was called back for a biopsy. If it is positive, work to battle the cancer can begin much more quickly than if she had waited.
Although there can be some discomfort for some patients, the experience of having a mammogram is different for everyone and most recognize its value for a moment of discomfort, he said.
BACH Mammography Technologist Sara Arnold and two other techs donated their own money to create three large gift baskets. Every patient who has a mammogram in October will be entered for a chance to win a spa basket, picnic supply basket or cooking basket. It was just way of adding their own ammo to the fight.
“It’s just something to bring women in because let’s face it, no one likes to get their breasts smashed,” she said. “But it’s very important. A lot of women put themselves on the back burner, put themselves last.”
Quinn said monthly self-breast exams can help find problems even sooner than clinical breast exams done by a doctor, that do not include a mammogram.
“When patients are familiar with how their breasts normally feel or look and then feel something isn’t right, it carries more weight,” he said.
Things to notice may include new asymmetry, with one breast changing sizes, new dimpling or indentations, new nipple inversion or retraction and bloody nipple discharge, among other symptoms.
Be especially concerned about masses that are firm but not painful and feel like they are fixed in place.
BACH usually screens 12 to 20 patients a day and most tests will come back normal. Of those that require additional testing, most will turn out OK too. But for the small percent who are positive for breast cancer, early diagnosis can mean the difference between life, death and the number of years one can live.