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What to do about Breast Changes and Symptoms between your Regular Mammograms

Accessing preventative services, including cancer screenings, is always important. However, during a pandemic you may be facing additional barriers but reporting symptoms to your doctor and accessing screening is part of early detection. Here are 4 answers to your most common questions from our partner, the Know Your Lemons Foundation.

It can be an anxious time when you notice a change in your breast, or going for your first mammogram. This article answers the five most common questions we get from patients.

But first, a 60-second overview of the basics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKhIvufyji0

Q1: How do I know when to report a breast change?

A: Some changes come and go with your menstrual cycle, such as tenderness and lumps. Other normal changes are part of breastfeeding, puberty, or age. If you notice something that lasts longer than a month, or if it gets worse, or just makes you feel like something is not right, then feel confident that it now is the time to tell your doctor and get answers to your questions about what is happening. Your doctor will want to know:

  • How long have you had the symptom(s)?
  • Does this come and go with your menstrual cycle? (If you still have one.)

First, get familiar with the 12 symptoms of breast cancer. Our Know Your Lemons app also can help you learn about each symptom, and explain your options to investigate it. It will guide you step-by-step, but the general process looks something like this:

Notice a change → Tell doctor → Get Mammogram

If answers aren’t clear, or your instincts tell you something is wrong after a mammogram comes back clear (it can detect cancer present in the breast 8 out of 10 times on average), then…

….ask about getting an ultrasound and/or breast MRI. If those tests indicate a problem or are still inconclusive, the final step is to get a biopsy and look at the cells under a microscope. This is the definitive way to determine cancer.

Q2: I spoke to my doctor, but I’m told I’m “too young” or “it’s probably nothing,” but I still feel concerned, what do I do?

A: We’ve had several patients with this same story. Some of them found it was easier to have the conversation when they showed their doctor the 12 symptoms of breast cancer image, and directly asked for a mammogram or ultrasound. Patients have credited this image as helping them get diagnosed by having a clearer way to communicate to their doctor:

Q3: I don’t have any symptoms and I do self-exams. Do I really need a mammogram?

A: A mammogram can find a cancerous lump before you can feel it. Self-exam is a casual way to understand what is normal for you, so if a change does happen between mammograms it’s much easier to notice. You need both to keep abreast of changes for early detection. With multiple mammograms to compare to, it’s also easier for the radiologist to spot a change too. Here’s a chart that shows the comparison of different discovery methods:

Q4: I’m not sure how to do a self-exam. I tried once, but couldn’t tell what I was feeling for. How can I learn this with some confidence?

A: We have an app with an audio guide that walks you through step-by-step. Your breast coach, Mona Lisa, uses a little humor to make it fun and give you confidence in how to do a self-exam. Download the “Know Your Lemons” app on the app store to listen to the audio guide.

Q5: When should I start getting mammograms?

Typically mammograms start after age 40, but other factors are also part of making the decision, such as individual risk factors. Our Know Your Lemons app can help you learn what those risk factors are and how it relates to a creating screening plan for mammograms and other tests. The app will also send you reminders of when to go and make it easy to book an appointment.

For more information go to knowyourlemons.com.

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Monica Bryant
mb@triagecancer.org