Mammograms and Breast Self-examinations — Don’t Put This Off


At first I thought it was in my head. Whenever I lifted my left arm, I experienced an uncomfortable pain. Then I convinced myself that I had a contusion of some sort, probably from playing with the kids. I realized the pain stemmed from my left breast. Groan. How did I get a bruise there? A few days later, the pain subsided and eventually disappeared. Thank goodness. One less thing to deal with.

That was about a year ago. Unfortunately, the pain comes and goes every few weeks. Sometimes the pain is manageable, but recently it got worse, to the point where wearing bras and raising my left arm even just a little bit caused pain. I gave myself numerous breast self-examinations. The husband finally told me I needed to visit the doctor before the pain got worse. He told me that if either of our children were experiencing the type of pain I was experiencing, I would have taken them to the doctor immediately — why was it so hard for me to put myself first?

The husband dragged me to an appointment with our primary care doctor who gave me a thorough breast examination, while I had the great distinction of having an audience, which included the husband, the doctor, the nurse, and the medical student. Oh crap — did I forget to shave under my arms and put on deodorant? Just my luck.

The doctor believes I have Fibrocystic Breast Disease. It sounds a lot scarier than it actually is. FBD, or Fibrocystic Breast Condition, usually affects about 60% of women ages 30-years old and older. FBD is characterized by mild breast tenderness, or it may be more severe with varying degrees of pain and benign lumps. Some women experience breast tenderness during their menstrual cycle. It is uncommon, but not impossible, to experience pain in just one breast when diagnosed with FBD (I’ve had very mild discomfort in my right breast).

Although the cause of FBD is uncertain, doctors do know that as we get older, thanks to hormonal changes, fluid and cells can accumulate in our breasts. It is common for breasts to secrete fluid within the breast, and when there has been tissue damage in this area, these fluids have nowhere to go and create sacs called cysts.

Give yourself a breast self-examination at least once a month, a few days after the end of your menstrual cycle. Go in for a breast examination by your doctor or OB/Gyn at least once a year. If you are in a menopausal state, choose any day during the month and check yourself on the same day every month. Stand straight in front of a mirror with your arms at your side (without a shirt or bra on, of course) and look for any abnormalities with the color or shape of your breast. If you notice any swelling, visible lumps, redness, tenderness, or fluid secretions, contact your doctor immediately. Next, raise both arms above your head and look for any abnormalities. Examine your left breast with your right hand, keeping your left arm raised above your head. Using a firm touch and keeping your fingers together, move up and down along the entire breast. Switch sides and repeat the process with your left hand right breast. Lie down and repeat this process of examining your breasts with your hands.

Just to make sure there was nothing else going on with my breasts, my doctor ordered a mammography and an ultrasound. It was going to be a fun day (note the sarcasm in my voice). If you have had issues with your breasts or there is a history of breast cancer in your family, get a mammogram at least once a year. If you’re 40 years old or over, get a mammogram once a year. If you’re unsure, consult your doctor for advice. A mammogram is an x-ray of your breasts. An x-ray technician will take pictures of both breasts and a radiologist will examine the x-rays for any abnormalities.

If there are any further concerns, the radiologist may ask for an ultrasound for one or both of your breasts. Ultrasound imaging uses high-frequency sound waves to examine various parts of your body (you may have had this done if you’ve been pregnant). Ultrasounds are non-invasive and show any type of movement or mass within your body.

The results of my mammogram and ultrasound came back a few days ago — they came back negative, thank goodness. The ultrasound did reveal small cysts in my left breast, but nothing to worry about.

After you read this, give yourself a breast self-examination, and if you’re over 40, get a mammogram as soon as possible if you’ve never had one or if it has been a while. Also, if you have breast implants, advise someone at the facility where you’re having your mammogram — these facilities always have a technician on hand who specializes in women with implants. Make sure to go to a facility that is FDA certified.

Put yourself first for once and take care of your body.

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