Breast Health

October is National Breast Health Month. I want to encourage everyone to learn how to do a self breast exam (SBE) if they do not already know how, and make a conscious effort to do a SBE each month. It could save your life. In 2003, the CDC stated that 181,646 women were diagnosed with breast cancer and of those 41,619 died from it. We need to improve those numbers. With the medical technology that we have today to help with diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, many people that are survivors today, would not have survived 20 years ago. And early detection is key to effective treatment.

Now one could say, “I am a man; men don’t get breast cancer, so I don’t need to worry about it.” Although the risk of breast cancer in men is very minimal, it does occur. In 2003, the CDC tabulated 1,826 men with breast cancer. Of that total number of men, 379 of them died from the breast cancer. Granted, the more prevalent age was 45 years old and older. But, the statistics show it still can happen in men.

As a Nurse Practitioner (NP), educating patients is a very important part of my exam appointments. Teaching people what to watch for as they age, how to detect problems early, and how to prevent poor health is extremely important. Take control of your health early, and make it a daily part of your life. You will be surprised how good you will feel.

Mammograms are recommended for women age 40 years old and older, every one to two years. This is because the breast tissue is much denser at younger ages; which makes mammograms harder to evaluate in younger women. If an abnormal lump is found in a female younger than 40 years old, your primary care provider may order a breast ultrasound. This will determine if the lump is a solid mass or a fluid filled cyst. After that evaluation, further testing may be ordered, or your primary care provider may decide to have you monitor it and return for an evaluation at a later date to see if it resolves.

Breast cysts can be benign, or non-malignant. Many young women may be told they have fibrocystic breast disease. This is a medical term that is used to describe normal, dense breast tissue, which is very prevalent in women under the age of 40 years old. It is also normal to notice more tenderness and “lumpiness” during the menstrual cycle due to the fluctuant changes in hormone levels. One can also notice more if they are heavy caffeine drinkers. Decreasing caffeine intake and doing a SBE after the menstrual cycle is complete will decrease your chance of finding a lump that is due to hormonal changes.

The physician that I worked with at an OB/GYN office in Bloomington Illinois, prior to coming to UIS, had a patient who’s niece got breast cancer. She was only 16 years old. It is very rare that this happens at such a young age. But, in this case she detected it early by doing regular SBE. She reported the lump immediately and was treated appropriately. At the time of diagnosis, it was a stage I (one) cancer; she caught it early. She is now 28 years old and doing well.

The UIS Campus Health Service has a breast health information booth in October in the PAC concourse. We will also be booking appointments for free breast exams. We will teach you how to do a proper SBE and do one for you. We also have an educational video and monthly reminder stickers available.

Please call 206-6676 for an appointment. Remember, prevention is key to future good health.