The good news is that breast cancer deaths are declining thanks to early detection. However, breast cancer remains the second leading cause of cancer death among US women–and the leading cause of cancer death in Hispanic women. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is the perfect time to remember that catching breast cancer early saves lives. But for many women, questions remain about how–and when– to schedule needed preventive care like breast exams and mammograms. Fortunately, your primary care doctor is an excellent resource for breast health and other basic gynecological care. We serve our patients with clinical breast exams, referrals for mammograms, and other services that make breast health easy and convenient.
What Is Breast Cancer?
The CDC describes cancer as a disease where cells grow out of control. That abnormal cell growth causes tumors. Breast cancer occurs when a malignant tumor grows in or near your breast. If not caught early, breast cancer can metastasize and spread to other areas of your body, making it harder to treat. According to the CDC, around 240,000 breast cancer cases are diagnosed in women and 2,100 in men each year. More than 40,000 women die each year, and Black women have the highest death rate from breast cancer. Screening for breast cancer is vital to early detection. Our primary screening tools are breast self-exams, clinical exams, and mammograms.
What Are The Risk Factors For Breast Cancer?
Most breast cancers are diagnosed in women 50 or older. According to the CDC, other risk factors include:
- Women who have inherited gene mutations, including BRCA1 and BRCA2.
- Women who started menstrual periods before age 12 or started menopause after 55.
- Women with dense breasts with more connective tissue and less fatty tissue.
- Family history of breast or ovarian cancer, especially in close relatives like mothers, sisters or daughters.
- Radiation therapy to the chest for other conditions
- Women who took the drug DES during pregnancy between 1940 and 1971–and women whose mothers took DES while pregnant with them.
How Often Should I Get a Breast Exam?
Patients should do a breast self-exam at home every month. This means using appearance and touch to get to know your breasts and checking for changes. You should have a clinical breast exam with your primary care provider or gynecologist once a year. As a primary care provider, we can often include this with your annual checkup. When your healthcare provider performs a clinical breast exam, they check your breasts’ appearance and use their hands to check for lumps in the breasts, collarbones and underarm areas.
How Often Should I Get a Mammogram?
Clinical breast exams can help detect cancer. However, the best tool for lifesaving early detection is a mammogram. According to the CDC, having regular mammograms can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer. Simply put, a mammogram is an x-ray of your breasts. It can detect abnormalities before a manual exam can find them. If results are abnormal, you’ll schedule additional tests, including an ultrasound or an MRI. Mammograms are usually done at hospitals or radiology centers and often require a referral. If you are at average risk, your primary care doctor will recommend a mammogram yearly or every other year for women 40 and over. If you are at higher risk, your doctor may recommend mammograms earlier and more frequently.
Can My Primary Care Doctor Order a Mammogram?
For many women, building a relationship with a doctor you trust is essential to high-quality, comprehensive healthcare. Now, many primary care doctors offer routine gynecological care. At Norvinia your Ashburn primary care doctor can perform a clinical breast exam as part of your annual checkup and take care of other routine tests, including PAP smears and STD testing. And of course, we can order a mammogram and refer you to trusted and conveniently located facilities. At Norvinia Health, we understand that breast health is essential to a woman’s holistic healthcare. We also understand that scheduling a mammogram can be intimidating and challenging to navigate. Dr. Ojha can help remove the fear factor and be a trusted resource for breast and overall health. As we observe Breast Cancer Awareness Month, let’s remember that early detection saves lives; book a well-visit and schedule that mammogram.