For all my Ladies out there and Gentlemen (yes, men have lumps too), here are a few tips and information with regards to Preparation for your Mammogram and how you can do your part to facilitate Breast Cancer Awareness and Treatment:
● Feel all four quadrants of your breasts (all around) in the shower. It is easier when the skin is wet and soapy/slippery. Picturing the breast as a clock, usually with the nipple as the centre (via someone facing you), is the way used for the identification of areas of concern in the breasts. These areas of concern identified are usually sent for further investigation, i.e a Mammogram/Breast Ultrasound.
E.g. Your Mammogram/Breast referral form may read, ‘mass located at 1 o’clock’.
● Feel your breasts when laying down, as not all masses are felt while standing.
● If you have a history of Breast Cancer in your family, the breasts should be checked by a doctor during general examination from as early as teenage years.
● No matter how young you are, once a mass, discomfort, pain, burning or sticking sensation, swelling and/or discharge from the nipple are observed, seek medical attention immediately.
● Once a referral is sought to do a Mammogram from your Doctor, if possible, choose a facility that does both Mammograms and Breast Ultrasounds.
*It is possible to have Breast Cancer and not know or be able to schedule a biopsy until weeks or months later. If a particular Breast Cancer cannot be detected by a Mammogram or your Technologist does not recognise an abnormality present and therefore does not raise the attention that a Breast Ultrasound is needed, there is risk of a spread. This is so, because there is sometimes a back up of Mammograms for reporting at Public clinics before a Radiologist can refer a patient for an Ultrasound. It may be too late by this time, costing the patient his/her life or an entire breast or two (single/double mastectomy).
● If you are referred to do a Breast Mammogram/Ultrasound, I recommend that you do both. Some cancerous (malignant) calcifications cannot be detected by Breast Ultrasound and vice versa.
• With advancement in Technology, an MRI is now sometimes recommended for even further detail.
*Keep in mind that the Mammogram is like a map to show the Radiologist where to focus for any area/s that may need clarification. So it is important to start there first.
● Starting at age 35 or 40, do your Mammogram annually. At least have 1 done by 35 to see the status of your breasts and what the doctor recommends in terms of continuing Mammograms before 40.
● Mammograms are low radiation. Remember that if you lay on the beach all day you are also exposed to cumulative radiation from the sun. A thyroid shield is only necessary if you have hormonal/thyroid issues and if you are undergoing/have recently done radiation therapy or chemo.
● A routine Mammogram will be two (2) views on each breast, therefore four (4) compressions in all.
● Do not wear powder, lotion/oil or deodorant/flaky deodorant when doing a Mammogram. The flakes or clusters from a deodorant or powder can mimic calcifications/cancer. While, lotions or oils may cause the breast to slide back during imaging, thus losing possible valuable information.
● Ladies, wear a top and bottom if possible when going to do your Mammogram.
● Try to do your Mammograms at the same facility each year so a record is kept for comparisons.
● Everyone does not have the same Mammogram experience. Other than the Technologist or machine used, this may be a result of other factors such as a current or close time period to a menstrual cycle, pain threshold, size of the breasts, thickness of breast tissue, presence of cysts and the overall shape of the breasts and shoulders/body habitus. So if it is painful or ‘unbearable’ for you, do not discourage others.
● It is not the end of the world if you feel pain and/a mass. It may just be a cyst that can be drained of fluid or removed. Take it one step at a time.
● If you have a lump that may be malignant (cancerous) and not benign (non-cancerous), ensure that you wait for your biopsy results before removing the lump. You need to confirm that the lump is cancerous, if so, the stage it is at, the possibility of the cancer spreading and the possibility of return if the breast/s are not removed.
● If the breast/s needs to be removed and reconstructive surgery is suggested or offered by the Doctor at the same time, I advise you wait 6 months to a year to be fully clear of cancer. Unfortunately, cancers sometimes return. If cancer returns, it could return within the skin flap where reconstruction was done and it is highly likely that it would be undetectable.
● Ensure that you not only have Life Insurance but Health Insurance. Some form of Pro-Care or Criticare should be sought as well if repetitive surgery or radiation treatment/chemotherapy is needed.
● Spread the Word to Family, Friends and Coworkers! Breast Cancer Awareness Saves Lives.
By: Gabrielle Burgess (Licensed Radiographer and Founder/Owner, Suga Lifestyle)
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