As we move through the pandemic, doctors encourage women who missed their screenings to schedule an appointment as soon as possible.
According to Rifat Wahab, DO, UC Health breast imaging specialist and assistant professor in the Department of Radiology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, it’s important for women to know that they should schedule their exam now, regardless of whether they are due to have their first screening mammogram or they are considered “high risk” due to a family history of breast cancer.
What are the serious health risks involved when you delay having a mammogram?
- The most serious health risk is a delay in cancer diagnosis. The purpose of obtaining a screening mammogram is to detect breast cancer early, before a patient has symptoms, such as a lump.
- A delay in cancer diagnosis can lead to a more advanced stage cancer, which may need more aggressive treatment.
- With extra cleaning, spacing of patients’ appointments and separating patients during the screening process, it is safe to obtain your screening mammogram during the COVID-19 pandemic. We remind people to skip putting on deodorant, but don’t skip wearing your mask.
What are the current guidelines for when to be screened?
- Breast cancer screening guidelines vary widely among professional societies, which can be frustrating and confusing for patients. To keep it simple, all women should begin having their screening mammogram at the age of 40, if not before. Overall, since implementing screening mammography at the age of 40 and improved cancer treatments, the overall mortality rate for breast cancer has decreased by 40%.
- The UC Health Radiology Department follows the American College of Radiology’s recommendations for annual screening mammography, beginning at age 40.
- Some patients may begin screening earlier than 40, particularly if they have a family history of breast cancer or inherited genes that make them more likely to develop breast cancer.
Are all breast cancers the same or similar? How do they differ?
- Numerous varieties of breast cancer can show up in different ways on a mammogram image. Some cancers present as a mass or a lump, and others as calcifications, which look like grains of salt that patients will not feel.
- Mammograms are the most effective screening tool for detecting breast cancer; however, it is not perfect. With the advent of 3D tomosynthesis mammograms, 85% of breast cancers can be detected through mammography.
What are the most common warning signs that something may be wrong?
A lump, hard knot or thickening. Any and all lumps must be checked, which also include hard knots or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening. Color variations can be a skin irritation or a bruise, however, if it doesn’t go away in a reasonable amount of time, do not ignore it, as it could be a sign of something more serious. Other areas on the body that appear puffy, or are painful or hot to the touch, are often associated with injury or infection. However, these symptoms on breasts can be signs of inflammatory breast cancer. While rare, it is also aggressive, so it is critical to see a doctor immediately.
Changes in size or shape. While many women have breasts that are sized unevenly or shaped uniquely, if you don’t normally have this scenario, see your doctor.
Dimpling or puckering. If you notice a change in the texture of the skin, the breast or the nipple, this can be a sign that something is wrong. Consult your doctor to receive an examination.
Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple. Chapped nipples are not normal. If you have irritation, itching, oozing, flaking or scaling skin in one breast and not the other, it could be eczema or an infection of the milk ducts. If, however, it does not resolve itself in a few weeks, see your doctor.
Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast. We know that some women can have inverted or retracted nipples (turning inward rather than outward). If this is a new symptom for you, consult your doctor right away.
Sudden nipple discharge. For anyone other than nursing mothers, leaking nipples are disconcerting, and it’s rarely a sign of breast cancer. It can be an abscess, a hormonal imbalance, fibrocystic change or another treatable condition. But, if it happens unexpectedly without squeezing the nipple and the discharge appears bloody or clear rather than milky, or if it occurs in only one breast, it needs to be examined.
New, persistent pain in one spot. Many women have painful breasts a week or so before their periods, but this type of pain is not the same – when it doesn’t stop once your cycle begins. Breast pain is more common with benign breast conditions than with breast cancer, and the only way to know for sure is to have it checked by your doctor.
Source cited: The Komen Blog (https://blog.komen.org/blog/delaying-mammograms-during-covid-19-means-women-must-know-their-normal-warning-signs/
UC Health Mammography Screening Events for Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Screening events are offered to women in the local community and provide an opportunity to access screening mammograms as well as important breast health information/education. During the event, all COVID-19 safety precautions will be strictly followed. Attendees as well as participating physicians, clinicians and staff must wear masks, observe social distancing and practice proper hand hygiene.
UC Health breast care physicians will serve as hosts to greet attendees, provide health education and answer participants’ questions.
In addition, integrative medicine specialists will be on hand to share health and wellness information, along with brief massage sessions, using normal COVID-19 safety precautions.
Mammogram appointments can be made by calling 513-584-PINK (7465). Prescheduled appointments are preferred, however, walk-ins will be accommodated if at all possible. Mammograms will be run through each participant’s insurance plan. Financial assistance is available to those who need support. Light refreshments will be made available.
To schedule your mammogram at any convenient UC Health mammography center is quick and easy – call 513-584-PINK (7465).