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Breast Cancer Awareness – Not Just for October

Since October was Breast Cancer Awareness month, I thought it would be best to discuss a breast topic. A positive sign that I can report is that Breast Cancer rates have been dropping since the year 2000 (American Cancer Society (ACS), 2014). The rate of decline has been associated with improved screening tools and more informed decisions regarding hormonal therapy for menopausal women (ACS, 2014). However, our fight against Breast cancer continues and I would encourage you to perform periodic breast self-exams and to obtain a yearly screening mammogram.

Other findings such as fibro-glandular densities, fibrocystic changes, breast cysts, fibro-adenomas, and micro-calcifications are also found on mammograms that often result in calling a woman back for further testing. Further testing may include a Diagnostic mammogram where they simply take more pictures of targeted areas within the breast and/or a Breast ultrasound. Either way, that call can be scary and lead to anxiousness until results are known. It is important to know that screening mammograms are just that-screening. It is a basic tool to evaluate the breast tissue in order to rule out any abnormality not just breast cancer. There are many other breast issues or symptoms that women or men may have that may or may not need treatment.

*Fibro-glandular Densities are often seen in younger men and women. Breast tissue is denser in this subset of the population (premenopause) since the breast is primarily made up of fat. After menopause, the breast tissue loses its fatty bulky composition as a result of hormonal change and skin/musculoskeletal changes. Dense breast are harder to evaluate though and require more images to examine.

*Fibrocystic changes are another common finding in premenopausal women and menopausal women who are taking HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy). Fibrocystic changes often trigger pain throughout the month. Our breasts besides fat are also made up of tiny ducts, lobes, and lobules that assist in milk production following childbirth. These areas are hormonally influenced not only after childbirth but cyclically with our menstrual cycle and as a result of contraception and HRT. Hormonal influence can create changes in the fluid in the breast triggering pain. Caffeine is often an overlooked culprit of breast pain as well. It can influence fluid shifts intensifying fibrocystic pain that already exist.

*Breast Cysts are fluid filled sacs that often feel like lumps. The fluid within the cyst may fluctuate depending on the time of the month. As the cyst increases in size it puts pressure on the surrounding tissue creating more pain. Depending on the size of the cyst, your provider may suggest you have drained.

*Fibro-adenomas are lumps of fibrous/milk gland tissue. These lumps are solid and defined and often create great fear. It is often suggested you have these biopsied to confirm they are benign or not cancerous. If found to be a fibro-adenoma they can be left alone or removed based on your comfort.

*Micro-calcifications are small deposits of calcium that develop over time. We all have calcium circulating in the body as a result of food that we eat and supplements we may take. Calcium we know is good for bone health. Most micro-calcifications are benign. Large groupings or patterns often require further imaging to ensure it is not an underlying cancer (ACS, 2014).

I hope you have found this review helpful. I know since starting to obtain mammograms myself the results and findings can be complicated. If ever in doubt, please ask us or your provider for clarification.

Thank you, Elizabeth