Saint Alphonsus Health System

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What are the symptoms of breast cancer?
The most common symptoms of breast cancer are a lump in the breast, an abnormal thickening of the breast or a change in the shape or color of the breast. Finding a lump or change in your breast does not necessarily mean you have breast cancer.

You should see a doctor right away if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Any new, hard lump or thickening in any part of the breast
  • Change in breast size or shape
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Swelling, redness or warmth that does not go away
  • Pain in one spot that does not vary with your monthly cycle
  • Pulling in of the nipple
  • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly and appears only in one breast
  • An itchy, sore, or scaling area on one nipple

Note: You may or may not experience pain with these breast changes.

What are the basic breast health steps?

  1. Monthly breast self-examination beginning by age 20
  2. Clinical breast examinations at least every three years beginning at age 20 and annually after age 40
  3. Annual screening mammography beginning at age 40

Women under age 40, with a family history of breast cancer and other concerns about their personal risks, should consult a trained medical professional about risk assessment and when to begin screening mammography.

What is a breast self-examination?
The best time to do a breast self-examination (BSE) is the same time each month; for menstruating women, it should be performed after the menstrual period has ended when the breasts are less tender. For post-menopausal women, it should be performed at the same time each month. For information on how to do a proper self-examination, contact Saint Alphonsus Breast Care Center for free instructions.

What is a clinical breast exam?
A clinical breast exam (CBE) is performed by a trained medical professional. It includes visual examination and palpation (feeling) of the entire breast and underarm area, and is performed in both sitting and lying down positions. It is important for women to have both a clinical breast examination and mammogram each year.

What is a mammogram?
A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast. A screening mammogram is used to look for breast disease in women who appear to have no breast problems. This screening tool is widely available, and it can detect breast cancer at its earliest and most treatable stages. A diagnostic mammogram is used to evaluate a woman with a breast problem/symptom or an abnormal finding on a screening mammogram.

The diagnostic mammogram will be focused on the area where there appears to be abnormal tissue. It is performed under the direct supervision of a mammographic-certified radiologist.

Will the mammogram be uncomfortable?
During a mammogram, the breast is compressed between two plates for a few seconds while x-rays are taken. Although this may cause discomfort, compression is necessary to get a quality mammogram. You may decrease this discomfort by scheduling your exam a few days after your menstrual period. If you are on hormone therapy, try scheduling before you start your monthly cycle of medication.

During the procedure, very low levels of radiation are used. While many people are worried about exposure to x-rays, the low level of radiation used for mammograms does not significantly increase the risk of breast cancer. For example, one mammogram exposes a woman to roughly the same amount of radiation as flying from New York to California on a jet plane.

We suggest that you dress comfortably and wear a top that is easy to remove, as you will be asked to undress to the waist. Refrain from using any types of powders, deodorants or creams on your underarms or breasts. These can interfere with a clear X-ray.

Will I need other tests?
In some cases the results of the mammogram can be unclear or show reason for concern. In these cases, the radiologist will recommend an ultrasound or special mammogram. Further care might include core or excisional biopsy. It is important to determine the true nature of any abnormality so that appropriate care can be given.

How do I schedule my mammogram?
You may contact Saint Alphonsus directly or be referred by your physician. Appointments are available weekdays and evenings, Monday through Friday. Please call 208-367-3336 for appointments. We are located at 6200 West Emerald, on the Saint Alphonsus campus in Boise.

What categorizes a woman as having an increased risk for breast cancer?
There are certain characteristics (genetic, environmental and behavioral) which can increase a woman's risk for breast cancer. Having these characteristics or exposures does not mean that a woman will get breast cancer. It does, however, guide healthcare providers in the education and screening of certain women.

The following characteristics have been found to be associated with a higher incidence of breast cancer:

  • One or more first-degree relatives with breast cancer
  • Early menarche (before age 13)
  • Childbearing at a late age (after 30), or no childbearing at all
  • Late menopause (after age 55)
  • Past or present use of post menopausal hormone replacement therapy (including estrogens and/or progestins)
  • Previous DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ), LCIS (lobular carcinoma in situ) or atypical hyperplasia
  • Alcohol use (1 or more drinks daily)
  • Past or present use of tobacco
  • Diet low in fruits and vegetables
  • Personal history of breast cancer