By Dr. Kathleen Ruddy
One of the most important things that a woman can do for her health is to get to know her body. At an early age, knowing how your breasts feel can be very important. Some women have naturally lumpy breasts while others have smoother breasts. If you know how your breasts normally feel, you will be better able to notice any changes in your breast tissue. While breast changes are not cancerous most of the time, sometimes a tumor is malignant and needs to be treated as soon as possible. What should you do, then, when you discover a lump that was not there upon performing a self-exam?
The Good News
If you do regular self-exams, you are taking control of your breast health. However, what should you do if you feel a lump that was not there during your last self-exam? A new lump that does not go away after your period needs to be checked by your doctor. Do not panic or be afraid to get it checked. It is likely just a benign growth, but do not take the chance by waiting. On average, four out of five lumps found in the breast are benign. Benign is a word that means unimportant, harmless, or in this case, noncancerous. That information does not negate the fact that every lump should still be checked out by a doctor. The last thing that you need to do is lose control of your own health by neglecting something this important.
Regular annual breast exams during your annual gynecological visit play a huge role in early detection. It is vital that you always go to your annual doctor’s appointment. It is also vital for women over 40 to have bi-annual mammograms for screening for lumps or abnormal cells that are undetectable during breast exams. These exams are designed to help you take control of your breast health, to raise awareness and to save more lives.
Other tests that are used when mammograms produce inconclusive results can include ultrasounds, fine or core needle biopsies, stereotactic biopsies, surgical biopsies and vacuum-assisted biopsies. These tests help to determine the nature of the lump so that the best treatment options can be provided. The most important factors in survival rates are attitude, treatments, lifestyle changes and early detection, though not necessarily in that order.
The Bad News
What happens when you report a lump to your doctor? The doctor will take some blood and probably do a CBC (complete blood count) to check for cancerous cells. It can take a few days to a week for the results to be returned. While you wait for those results, you are typically either sent to an imaging center for a mammogram and/or ultrasound. Sometimes these tests can be performed in the doctor’s office if your doctor’s office has that capability.
Mammogram results can take a few days to come back and you might still have to wait a few more days to get an appointment. Waiting for these results is sometimes tough. Ultrasounds are virtually immediate in the doctor’s office, but they can take a few days to schedule at times.
When the results are inconclusive after blood tests, mammograms and/or ultrasounds are done, then the biopsies begin. Biopsies can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, depending on the method that has to be used for the specific procedure. Surgical biopsies are more invasive, therefore they take longer and require more recovery time. Needle aspirations and vacuum-assisted biopsies take less time and usually only require local anesthesia. Medical professionals typically go to great lengths to ensure the patient’s health, well-being and comfort for these tests.
Breast lumps are not often cancerous, as most are either benign or precancerous and are highly treatable.
Once it has been determined whether a breast tumor is cancerous or not, treatment solutions are then offered. Unless a benign tumor is bothersome to the patient, it is usually left alone and no treatment is required. Sometimes, patients opt to have harmless tumors removed due to pain or discomfort.
When it comes to cancerous tumors, radiation, chemotherapy and/or hormone therapy treatments, as well as mastectomy or lumpectomy surgeries are offered. Usually, even after a full breast tissue removal (or mastectomy) is performed, the patient undergoes a few rounds of chemo to eradicate cancerous cells. Finding a lump in your breast can be a harrowing experience, but by being armed with the information on how to deal with it, you can save yourself a great deal of worry and stress by dealing with it properly.
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