breast self exam

In October, when the color pink is popping up everywhere, it’s hard not to think about breast cancer. This disease has touched the lives of far too many men and women. Even if you yourself are not at risk for breast cancer, chances are you may have had a friend, family member, or acquaintance who has battled the disease.

Statistics show that one in eight women in the United States can expect to be diagnosed with the disease in her lifetime.

“Finding it at an early stage increases the chances for effective treatment and patient survival,” says LaJuana Fuller, director of Women’s Imaging at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC.

While there isn’t a sure way to prevent it, here are four things women can do to help reduce their risk and increase the odds of it being detected at an early, more treatable stage.

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1. Know Your Risk

A family history puts you at an increased risk for the disease. Learn your family health history and share that information with your doctor.

2. Get Screened

Women of average risk should begin annual screening mammograms at age 40, as recommended by the American College of Radiology and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. This has been shown to save the most lives from breast cancer.  Just as with any medical advice, a woman should discuss the risks and benefits of screening with her doctor.  Women of higher risk should consider starting at an earlier age. If you’re at a higher risk, ask your doctor about the screening tests and frequency that’s right for you.

3. Check Yourself

“We strongly encourage breast self-awareness for women of all ages,” says Ms. Fuller. “If you know how your breasts normally look and feel, you’re more likely to notice a change.”

Statistics show that 40 percent of diagnosed breast cancers are found by women who feel a lump, often times during a regular activity like bathing or dressing. Most breast changes aren’t cancer.

If you do notice any of the following breast changes, be sure to call your doctor:

  • Lump, hard knot, or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
  • Swelling, warmth, redness, or darkening of the breast
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Itchy, scaly, sore rash on the nipple
  • Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
  • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
  • New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away

4. Make Healthy Lifestyle Choices

A study by the National Institutes of Health showed that women who followed a healthy lifestyle — getting regular exercise, limiting their alcohol intake, and maintaining a healthy body weight — lowered their risk by 25 percent.

For more information on breast cancer and prevention, visit the Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC online or schedule an appointment, call 1-866-MyMagee (696-2433).

American Cancer Society. National Institutes of Health. Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

About Adult Congenital Heart Disease Center

The UPMC Adult Congenital Heart Disease Center is a joint program between UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute. We are located at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside. We provide long-term care for adolescents, young adults, maternal patients, and adults with congenital heart disease. Our goal is to provide complete care from your childhood all the way through your life.