October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and is the optimum time to stay on top of your breast health and consider scheduling an exam.

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, one in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Outside of skin cancers, breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women. However, when it’s caught in early stages, localized to the breast, the five-year survival rate is 99 percent.

Essentia Health recommends having a clinical breast exam annually. Between these appointments, medical providers recommend self-breast awareness, which is knowing how a person’s breasts normally look and feel.

Individuals should see a provider if they are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

• Changes in the size or shape of the breast.

• A painful or itchy nipple.

• Discharge from the nipple without squeezing.

• Swelling, redness, warmth or darkening of the breast.

• Lumps or thickening in the breast or underarm area.

• A change in skin texture.

• A changing of the nipple position or shape.

• New pain in one spot that does not go away.

Essentia Health recommends women of average risk get a screening mammogram every year beginning at age 40. These can be scheduled with an individuals primary care provider. A mammogram is a low-dose X-ray of breast tissue. Routine screening mammograms can help a provider detect breast cancer before you have symptoms.

Essentia Health offers digital 2-D and 3-D mammograms. A 3-D mammogram takes pictures from several angles and produces a 3-D image of breast tissue that is examined layer by layer. Additionally, ultrasounds and breast MRIs can be used if further imaging is needed.

“The National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends women undergo a breast cancer risk assessment at age 25 to develop a breast screening plan tailored to each individual’s family history and personal health history,” said Brittani Boehlke-Fiecke, a certified physician assistant specializing in breast health, hematology and oncology at Essentia. “Your risk for breast cancer depends on many factors, and our team is here to help.”

The Essentia Health High-Risk Breast Cancer Program focuses on helping patients understand their risk for developing breast cancer. After a thorough history, examination and education session, the patient and Breast Health Program nurse practitioner partner to form a personalized plan of care.

Patients can lower their breast cancer risk by doing some of the following:

• Maintain a healthy weight.

• Exercise regularly.

• Limit alcohol intake.

• Limit hormone use.

• Breastfeed if possible.

• Avoidance of tobacco products.