This year, Saint Mary’s #Band2Gether campaign is encouraging women throughout northern Nevada to be prepared and educated when it comes to their breast health. One of the most important steps you can take in maintaining your breast health is knowing when and how often you should receive a breast cancer screening.
Amy Thompson, Breast Health Nurse Navigator at Saint Mary’s Center for Cancer is here to tell us more.
RMB: At what age should most women begin receiving an annual mammogram?
Amy: Various national organizations have varied recommendations about when to begin annual screenings and how often. Guidelines from NCCN and American College of Radiology continue to recommend annual mammograms start at age 40.
According to ACS, Generally most women at an average risk of breast cancer should begin to receive annual mammograms at the age of 45, yet can start as early as age 40 and should speak with their doctor.
RMB: Are there certain women who should start getting mammograms sooner?
Amy: Women at a higher risk of breast cancer or who have noticed possible breast cancer symptoms (lumps, rashes or breast discoloration) should consult their healthcare provider as soon as possible. The best way to determine your risk for breast cancer is to talk about with your healthcare professional about a breast cancer risk assessment tool. Various tools are available to help calculate lifetime risk, which can help women and providers best understand appropriate screening schedules. (https://www.cancer.gov/bcrisktool/Default.aspx)
RMB: Are the guidelines for mammograms any different for women with dense breasts?
Amy: If a woman is at a higher risk of breast cancer because she has dense breasts (or other established risk factors), she and her provider should develop a tailored screening plan. Some of these guidelines include, ongoing monthly self-breast exams, an annual breast exam given by a physician, digital mammography, MRI or ultrasound.
RMB: How does a woman know if she has dense breasts?
Amy: The best way to determine whether a woman has dense breast is with a mammogram. Nevada A.B. 147 passed in 2013 requiring that patients be notified of breast density on mammogram reports along with the benefit of supplementary imaging such as whole breast ultrasound. At SMRMC, each woman receives a letter summarizing the result of her mammogram along with level of breast density found on her mammogram to enable open discussion with her healthcare provider. (https://www.leg.state.nv.us/Session/77th2013/Bills/AB/AB147.pdf)
RMB: When it comes to breast self-exams, at what age should women start doing these?
Amy: It’s never too soon for women to begin self-exams as it is important to become familiar with how their breasts look and feel and to report any changes to a health care provider right away. A common term now used is “breast awareness” and knowing what is ‘normal’ for each person.
RMB: How often should women be performing breast self-exams?
Amy: Both men and women should begin performing a breast self-exam at least once a month beginning at the age of 18. There are varying recommendations whether outcomes are improved with SBE and whether it leads to more interventions (such as biopsies). However, having breast awareness and being able to report abnormalities to healthcare providers remains an important topic to advocate for.
RMB: Do you have any tips or guidelines for conducting a breast self-exam?
Amy: I recommend performing a breast self-exam in the shower to check for any changes or lumps; in front of a mirror, to visually inspect the breasts for changes as well as laying down with the arm overhead, checking throughout the breast and under the armpit. For step-by-step instructions, consult a medical professional.
Amy: Notify her healthcare provider as soon as possible.
Amy: Finally, There are several varying recommendations that have surfaced over the past few years bringing up many questions. It is important for women to talk with their trusted healthcare provider to decide what is best for her with regard to screenings and early detection. It is important for women to educate themselves about options to be able to advocate for what is best and ensure we are all part of this valuable conversation.
Use #Band2Gether all month long to show your support for breast health awareness!
This post is sponsored by Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center.
A Reno native Amy Thompson, RN is a proud soccer mom! As the Breast Health Nurse Navigator at Saint Mary’s Center For Cancer. As a Breast Nurse Navigator, Amy works side by side with breast cancer patients and their families to enhance their experience from diagnosis to treatment and survivorship. As northern Nevada’s longest standing NAPBC accredited breast program, Saint Mary’s Center for cancer is dedicated to providing exceptional and compassionate care to our region.