Breast Self-Awareness: Knowing Your Normal
by: Breann Lujan-Halcon

Throughout the month of October, there is an international effort to raise Breast Cancer Awareness. The annual campaign is often associated with all things pink but stands for a much bigger cause, saving lives.

In the year 2020, the American Cancer Society estimates 276,480 women and 2,620 men will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer.

While breast cancer is the second most common cancer found in women, men, too, have breast tissue that is susceptible to cancer.  Breast cancer in men is estimated to take 520 lives this year.

What can I do to reduce my risk of breast cancer?

Dr. Kim Westbrook is a women’s health provider at Ivinson Medical Group, seeing women in all walks of life. For her, reducing your risk starts from your first appointment.

"I discuss breast cancer prevention with nearly all of our patients, regardless of age,” Dr. Westbrook said. “In fact, every new patient in our clinic fills out a form to evaluate if she has any high-risk factors for breast cancer.”

While there are many risk factors that you cannot change, like being a woman, genetics, and aging, there are lifestyle risks that can be controlled.

“There is no definitive way to prevent breast cancer,” Westbrook said. “The best thing you can do is live an active and healthy lifestyle. Maintaining a healthy weight, particularly after menopause, will likely decrease the risk.”

How should I monitor changes in my breast tissue?

“We educate more about “breast self-awareness” now as opposed to self-breast exams.  The difference here is that we ask patients to try to become familiar with their own breast tissue.  This may allow them to recognize a change in their tissue, such as a lump or mass.”

The push for breast self-awareness asks patients to become familiar with what their “normal” looks and feels like.

“For average-risk women, we no longer recommend regular, repetitive exams for the purpose of detecting breast cancer which is what we consider a self-breast exam,” explains Dr. Westbrook. “For many, this causes anxiety that they are expected to recognize something abnormal.  Therefore, we simply ask patients to try to be aware of their own breast tissue and let their provider know if there is a change.”

The American Cancer Society’s Recommendations for the Early Detection of Breast Cancer found that self-exams have not proven to detect early breast cancer. Instead, they found that symptoms such as a lump are more often discovered during routine activities such as bathing or dressing. They advise that women should become familiar with what is normal for their breast tissue and should report any changes to a healthcare provider right away.

What kind of changes should I be looking for?

  • Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
  • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
  • Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
  • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
  • New pain in one spot that doesn't go away

“A patient should call if there is a change such as a mass, new-onset nipple discharge, redness in the breast tissue or pain,” Dr. Westbrook advises.

It is recommended for patients who discover changes in their breast tissue, to contact their provider at the onset of symptoms, rather than waiting. If you have questions or concerns about your breast tissue, call our women’s health clinic at (307) 755-4540 and schedule an appointment today.   Learn more at https://www.ivinsonhospital.org/.

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