Texas County Memorial Hospital mammography technologists Terri Bailey and Lori Dailing stand next to the facility's mammography machine.

Every woman is at risk of developing breast cancer.

Although every woman is at risk of developing breast cancer, American Cancer Society statistics show that breast cancer deaths have been in steady decline in the past decade, especially among younger women. Experts attribute this decline to earlier detection and improved treatment.

Earlier detection of breast cancer starts with practicing good breast health. Good breast health is a three-step approach. The first step is the breast self-exam. Mammography is the second step. And the final step is the clinical breast exam.

Detecting breast cancer starts at home when a woman is about 20 years old. Every woman should perform a monthly selfexam on her breasts.

Every woman’s breasts are unique, and hormones make the breasts change in size and in tenderness throughout the month. Every woman should know what the breasts look like from the outside in. The monthly self-exam will aid women in detecting any changes that might indicate breast cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, women performing monthly self-exam find lumps that are about the size of a pea. Women that do not practice self-examination are generally found to have lumps that have grown to the size of a walnut. Successful treatment chances increase when the lump is small.

Women between the ages of 20 and 50 should examine their breasts seven to 10 days after the onset of their monthly cycle. Postmenopausal women should perform breast self-exams on the same day each month.

The breast self-exam is multi-faceted. A woman should stand in front of a mirror and examine her breasts with her hands at her sides and with her hands raised over her head. Changes in shape, size, or skin should be noted.

Both nipples should also be squeezed to note any spontaneous or bloody discharge. A drop of clear, greenish or milky fluid is normal.

The monthly self-exam also includes feeling for changes. Some women find this easy to do while they are lying on a flat surface or while they are showering.

With one arm raised to even out breast tissue the opposite hand should be used to examine the breast. Starting in the armpit, small circular motions and varying degrees of pressure should be used to examine the entire breast without lifting the hand. Light pressure should be used to gently feel for any changes below the surface. Deep pressure should be used to feel changes closer to the rib cage.

Many signs could point to breast cancer in any woman. These might include a painless mass; a thickening, swelling or skin irritation or distortion; or a nipple discharge or change. If any changes in a breast are noted, a physician should be contacted immediately.

One in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. However, when found and treated in its earliest stage, breast cancer is highly curable. The five-year survival rate for localized breast cancer is 96 percent.

Mammography screening is the second step a woman should take for her breast health.

Breast cancer screening guidelines encourage all women to get a screening mammogram before their 40th birthday. Women with a family history of breast cancer or other health factors may need to get a mammogram at an earlier age.

The screening mammogram is the basic tool for detecting early signs of breast cancer in women who do not have symptoms. In a screening mammogram images of each breast are taken, from the top down and from the side.

At Texas County Memorial Hospital, anyone can set up a screening mammogram by contacting the radiology department. Some healthcare facilities may require a referral from a healthcare provider for a mammogram.

Medicare and most private insurance will cover the cost of an annual screening mammogram. Many local health departments and the Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks will assist women that do not have insurance and are not able to cover the cost of a mammogram.

There are a few tips to keep in mind before arriving for a mammogram. Schedule the mammogram 14 days after the onset of the monthly cycle to lessen breast tenderness.

Do not apply deodorant or antiperspirant, powder, or lotion under your arms or near your breasts before the mammogram.

Wearing a two-piece outfit to your appointment will aid in clothing removal for the mammogram. Women who are concerned about breast discomfort should take a mild, over-the-counter pain reliever about an hour before the exam.

The breast is compressed between two clear, plastic plates during mammography. Compression aids in showing as much breast tissue as possible and is not harmful to the breast.

Terri Bailey, a mammography technologist at Texas County Memorial Hospital in Houston, said many women have heard “horror stories” about mammograms.

“Most women leave their mammogram saying it wasn’t as bad as they anticipated it would be,” Bailey said.

Bailey has more than 36 years of experience providing mammography at TCMH, and she has seen women in their 30s up to women in their 90s find malignancies in their breasts through mammography.

Bailey explained that sometimes a group of women will come together to her hospital to get their annual mammograms. Occasionally, mothers and daughters come in together for their annual screenings.

“The important thing is that women take the time to get their annual mammogram,” Bailey said. “A mammogram only takes about a half hour, and that half hour could save your life.”

The American Cancer Society recommends that women age 40 and older should have a mammogram annually as long as they are in good health.

The clinical breast exam is the third step in breast health.

Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam as part of a regular health exam by a healthcare provider. The clinical breast exam should be done every three years.

After age 40, women should have a breast exam by a healthcare provider every year.

The clinical breast exam is a complement to the mammogram as another form of early detection testing.

The clinical breast exam also provides an opportunity for women to discuss any changes in their breasts with their healthcare provider.

During a clinical breast exam, the healthcare provider will look for any outward irregularities as well as using finger pad pressure to feel all areas of the breast tissue.

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