Welcome to Healthy Tips! Every other month we will post useful health care tips for women here on our website. These will cover topics of interest to women of all ages. We hope you find the information helpful.
Breast Health: What You Should Know
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Great strides have been made in early detection of breast cancer and successful treatment. However, the disease still claims too many women each year. The good news is that breast cancer can be successfully treated if caught early. This fall, we urge you to follow the suggestions below and be proactive about your breast health
What Causes Breast Cancer?
There are factors that put some women at greater risk, but researchers still don’t know what actually triggers the disease. They know that smoking contributes to lung cancer, and that a wayward gene may cause colon cancer, but breast cancer’s origins remain a mystery. Although there are some abnormal genes that can cause some breast cancers, less than 10 percent of breast cancers are truly inherited. The vast majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history. However, the following factors can put you at higher risk:
* If you are a woman who has a mother, sister or daughter who has had breast cancer, you are at higher risk.
* If you gave birth after age 30.
* If you began menstruating at an early age, or started menopause late.
* If you eat a diet high in fat.
* If you are obese, weighing more than 40 percent of your ideal body weight.
* If you smoke.
How Great Is the Risk?
One in eight women may develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society.
What Can Be Done to Reduce the Risk?
Be proactive about your health. Understand the risk factors and know which ones affect you. Learn your family history. Work to reduce the risk factors you can control–beginning with a low-fat diet and quitting smoking. Exercise regularly–this will help you maintain a healthy weight and boost endorphins. Reduce your alcohol intake to four or five drinks per week maximum. Do monthly breast checks and know your body at all phases of your menstrual cycle so you can spot abnormal changes.
It takes 15 minutes to check your breasts, and that is 15 minutes that could save your life. Have an annual physical, even if you feel fine. Feeling fine doesn’t mean you are in good health. Cancer can be in your body for years before you show symptoms. Have a mammogram according to the age guidelines or ask your doctor’s advice. Breast cancer has a good chance of being beaten if detected at the early stages.
When Is the Best Time to Check My Breasts?
The best time to check your breasts is five to seven days into your menstrual cycle. A new menstrual cycle begins the day you start bleeding. Your breasts are less sensitive at this time.
Post-menopausal women should examine their breasts at the same time every month. Pick a day of the month that is easy to remember, such as the first or the fifteenth, to do your exam.
What Is the Best Way to Check My Breasts?
Breast exams should be done both standing up and lying down, since one position may expose a lump that the other did not. If you are examining your right breast, lie down and put a pillow under your right shoulder. Place your right arm behind your head. Use the fingertips of your left hand and feel for lumps or a thickening of your breast. You should press firmly and move around your breast in a set way. This may be a circular motion, up and down, or a wedge pattern. Use the same pattern every time you check your breasts. Reverse the process to do your left breast.
To do an examination while standing, raise the arm of the breast being examined and then repeat the process described above–pressing firmly with the fingertips while moving over the breast in a circular fashion.
Women should also do a visual inspection in the mirror. Breasts should look symmetrical. There may be some difference in size, but normally, one breast is slightly larger than the other. However, watch for signs of dimpling, nipple inversion, or an orange peel-looking area. Some women are born with nipple inversion, and others may experience it when they get older, but if this is a new development, it should be checked by a doctor. Observe the breasts for a flat, red rash that may or may not itch. The rash may appear on only one breast. Lastly, squeeze the nipple area and observe for any discharge. It does not matter what color the discharge is, it should be reported to your doctor.
Why Don’t Women Check Their Breasts?
Many women have trouble with the process. They say they can’t tell the difference between normal breast “lumpiness” and lumps that are cause for concern. However, by checking your breasts every month, you will learn what your breasts consistently feel like.
What Causes Lumpy Breasts?
Many women have lumpy breasts or fibrocystic condition. This means that their breasts contain small cysts or fluid-filled spaces of fibrous material that can make breasts feel lumpy. This is a benign condition, but it can be painful. It is not, however, a precursor to cancer.
What Does a Cancer Lump Feel Like?
The lump to be concerned about is the one that wasn’t there before. It you examine your breasts consistently, you will know what they feel like at all stages of your cycle. A cancer lump may be as small as a mustard seed. It is usually not painful, and you will usually find it only on one side. Any lumps should be checked by a doctor immediately.
What Are the Mammogram Guidelines?
According to the American Cancer Society, mammograms are recommended for all women by age 40. From ages 45 to 54, women are advised to have yearly mammograms. From age 55 and older, mammograms can be done every two year. However, a woman’s personal history or other risk factors may warrant more frequent or earlier screenings. Your doctor can provide a personal assessment.
What Is a Mammogram?
A mammogram is a low-dose X-ray of the breast. It takes a picture of the tissue inside the breast, allowing doctors to check for any abnormalities. The radiation used in mammography procedures is not harmful, and the procedure should not be painful. (Women are advised to have mammograms after their periods, when their breasts are less tender.)
Some screening centers now offer digital mammograms which can see breasts in even more detail.
A number of women avoid mammograms because they see them as breast cancer finders, rather than life-savers. But, breast cancer is one of the most curable cancers if found early. You and your doctor may feel a breast lump the size of a pinhead, but that lump could have existed for one or two years before you were able to feel it.
What Happens During a Mammogram?
Mammograms are done by technologists trained in mammography. The technician explains the procedure; then she takes a brief medical history. When the patient is ready, she steps up to the machine. One breast at a time is placed on the film, and a plastic compression paddle is lowered onto the breast by the technologist. A woman may feel some pressure during the brief time it takes to get the pictures. Four pictures are taken, two of each breast. After the procedure, the films are developed and checked immediately to see if any additional views are needed. If not, the patient may leave. A copy of the report is always sent to your physician.
Breast cancer can be beaten if women adopt a proactive attitude toward their health. Check your breasts; have an annual physical, know your family history, and reduce the risk factors that you can. Follow the mammogram guidelines and get your screenings as recommended. Early detection is the best prevention. It can save your life.
For more information about Partners for Women’s Health, call (603) 778-5770.
Get Your Flu Shot
Over the years, some women have expressed concern about whether to get a flu shot or not when they are pregnant. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), getting a flu shot while you are pregnant is not only safe, it is one of the best things you can do. While September, with its frequent nice weather, may not seem like flu season, it is not too early to get vaccinated.
Influenza is a serious illness, and can cause significant problems when you are pregnant. Even normally healthy women can develop complications if they contract the flu while pregnant. The reason is because pregnancy itself causes changes in a woman’s heart, lung and immune system functions. According to the CDC, pregnant women who get the flu are at a higher risk of hospitalization and even death, than non-pregnant women. Severe illness in the mother can be dangerous to the baby because it increases the chance of premature labor and delivery.
Getting a flu shot protects both you and your unborn baby
When you get your flu shot, your body starts to make antibodies that help protect you against the flu. These antibodies are passed on to your unborn baby and help protect the baby for up to six months after he or she is born. This is important because vaccines do not work in babies younger than six months. In fact, babies younger than six months cannot get the flu vaccine because they will not develop a sufficient immune response.
If your child is already born, and you breastfeed your infant, your antibodies from your flu shot may be passed on to your child in your breast milk.
It takes about two weeks for your body to make antibodies after getting the flu vaccine.
* The flu vaccine comes in two forms–the injectable form or flu shot, and a nasal spray or LAIV vaccine. The LAIV vaccine is NOT recommended for pregnant women. Pregnant women should receive the flu shot.
* The nasal spray is for use in healthy people ages 2 to 49 who are NOT pregnant.
* Women who are not pregnant, but are breastfeeding, may receive either the flu shot or the nasal vaccine.
* You can receive the flu shot at any time, during any trimester, while you are pregnant. Millions of flu shots have been given to women over the years. Flu shots have not been shown to cause harm to pregnant women or their infants.
* If you have your baby before getting your shot, you still need to be vaccinated. The flu is spread from person to person. If you get the flu, you can pass it to your child. Anyone in the household who comes in contact with your baby should be vaccinated.
* The side effects of the flu vaccine are typically mild. The most common are tenderness, soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site. Some people also experience headaches, muscle aches, fever, nausea or fatigue after getting the shot. This usually passes in a day or two.
* If you have symptoms of the flu, even if you have already had a shot, call your doctor immediately. Doctors can prescribe medications to treat the flu and reduce the chance of serious illness. These medications should be started as soon as possible. If you have any or all of these symptoms call your doctor:
* Sore throat
* Body aches
* Runny or stuffy nose
If you have any of the following symptoms, call 911 or seek emergency medical care right away:
* Problems breathing or shortness of breath
* Pain or pressure on the chest or abdomen
* Sudden dizziness or confusion
* Severe or constant vomiting
* Decreased or no movement of your baby
* High fever that is not responding to Tylenol or another acetaminophen
If you have further questions about the flu or flu vaccine, talk to your doctor. You may also get additional information at 1-800-CDC-INFO or by visiting www.flu.gov.
Portions of this information were provided by the Centers for Disease Control.
For more information about Partners for Women’s Health, call (603) 778-0557.