Health Spotlight: Women’s Health: Take Control of Breast Cancer
For women in the United States, breast cancer is the most common cancer, behind skin cancers, and it’s the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Breast cancer is often curable if detected early, and that’s why regular screening tests and self-examinations should be a vital part of your health and wellness routine.
Dr. Barbara Savader, radiologist, and Dr. Kandice Ludwig, breast surgeon at Indiana University Health North Hospital offer advice to help you take control of your breast health.
How can I reduce my breast cancer risk?
Breast cancer prevention starts with healthy habits, such as limiting alcohol, avoiding tobacco and maintaining a healthy weight. It’s also helpful to learn about your family health history. Share your medical history with your doctor and ask about your breast cancer risk. If you’re a woman over the age of 40, your doctor will likely suggest a yearly mammogram. Even if you haven’t reached the age to start scheduling regular mammograms, ask your doctor about self-exams, where you can check for anything abnormal.
What’s the process like to get a mammogram?
A standard screening mammogram involves two images of each breast. You’ll be positioned into a machine and the breast will be compressed to take the images. When the imaging is finished, the radiologist will interpret your mammogram and you’ll be notified of the results.
“The compression from the machine helps spread out the breast tissue, and helps the radiologist see through the tissue to detect breast cancer,” explained Dr. Savader. “While a mammogram isn’t comfortable, I wouldn’t describe it as painful. The entire process – paperwork and all – might make the appointment longer, but the mammogram itself only takes about 15 minutes.”
What happens if breast cancer is detected?
If breast cancer is detected, you’ll work with your care team – which includes specialists such as breast surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists – to develop a treatment plan.
“In general, if a patient is diagnosed with cancer, we determine if the cancer can be removed with a lumpectomy, which removes the tumor, or a mastectomy, which removes the breast,” said Dr. Ludwig. “Multiple factors affect this determination, including the size of the tumor, the size of the breast, family history and prior history of radiation.”
Your care team will be a valuable resource throughout the process, but remember that you, too, can be your own advocate.
“I like to empower my patients with knowledge and realistic expectations, that way they’re in control of their treatment,” explained Dr. Ludwig. “Ask your doctor what you can expect from start to finish. If you’re interested in doing online research, ask your doctor about credible websites.”