You've read all the statistics on breast cancer prevalence. You know it is the most common cancer in women in the U.S. and that there is a one in eight chance for a woman to develop breast cancer. You perform your breast self-exam every month, knowing it is the first step in preventing the disease.
Suddenly, your fingertips feel something that was not there when you checked last month. You adjust your posture and check again, hoping it was a false alarm, but you feel it again. You have found a lump.
For this Tuesday Talk, we ask Broward Health Imperial Point family practitioner physician Daniela A. Botoman, M.D., to share advice on what to do if you find something unusual during your self-examination.
Call your doctor ASAP
According to Dr. Botoman, the first thing you need to do is to schedule an appointment with a physician. "Don't lose time trying to look for answers by yourself," Botoman says. "You need an expert opinion and you need to have an expert start investigating."
She also recommends avoiding the Internet for answers and to not consult friends and family members, as this can lead to additional stress and confusion.
"Diagnosing breast cancer is a very hands-on process, which takes into account a number of individual factors for each patient," she says. "No other source can give you a proper assessment of what it could be -- only a physician."
During the Visit
Bring a close friend or relative to have an extra set of eyes and ears during the visit. Your doctor will start with a detailed medical interview, so come prepared to go over some key details:
- Family history of cancer and personal gynecological history.
- Lifestyle habits, including drinking, smoking, sleeping and eating habits, as well as average levels of stress.
- Current medications, such as birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, and any other medication.
The interview will be followed by a physical examination with focus on your breast. Share with your doctor exactly how you performed your self-examination and exactly what you felt.
At the end of the visit, your doctor will share with you his or her observations and if additional tests and imaging, such as a mammography and an ultrasound, are needed.
According to Dr. Botoman, eight out of 10 lumps are benign, but it is better to "get a negative result often, than to miss a positive one," she says.
Given that a physician is the best and most accurate way to identify breast cancer, we asked Dr. Botoman if self-examination is really as important as we are told.
Her answer is a definitive "yes." Women should learn their anatomical map, so that when something is different in their landscape, they are able to identify it promptly.
"I have been a physician for 25 years," Botoman says. "I am a mom, I have a daughter, and as a woman, I absolutely recommend monthly self-exams."
Her best advice for women in reproductive years is to do it seven to 10 days after beginning their period, when symptoms of premenstrual syndrome have dissipated. Women in menopause should repeat the self-exam on the same day each month.
Knowing our bodies is the first step to identifying any changes that can lead to a prompt diagnosis.If you need to talk to a doctor, visit www.browardhealth.org/find-doctor to find a physician.