October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In honor of this special month, UAB Medical West would like to remind women about the importance of early detection. Below are some simple steps that are key in detecting this potentially devastating disease.

Step 1: Breast Self-Examination

Performing a monthly breast self examination is the first step to early detection of breast cancer. The earlier a patient notices a change in her breast, the better. It’s a good habit for a woman to start performing breast self examinations when she begins seeing her gynecologist, and to continue the exams throughout her life — even during pregnancy and after menopause. However a patient chooses to examine her breasts, she should do so at the same time every month. A card in the shower is a good way to remember to perform your monthly exam.

Step 2: Clinician Breast Exams

In addition to monthly self exams, a doctor or nurse practitioner should perform a breast exam every year, since they can typically feel things a patient can’t feel or didn’t realize were important. This can be part of your yearly gynecological visit or a routine checkup.

Step 3: Mammography

Mammography is a low-dose x-ray of the breasts to find changes that may occur. It is the most common imaging technique and is important because it can detect breast cancer before you are able to feel it in a self-examination. It can detect non-palpable cancers that would grow for years before they are big enough to feel without mammography.

The American Cancer Society recommends that by age 40, women should have a screening mammogram every year. (Women who have a family history of breast cancer should begin getting mammograms 10 years younger than their youngest affected relative).  After a mammogram, a biopsy may be necessary to determine if cancer cells exist in the breast.

What do I do if I feel a lump?

Many times, lumps you may find during a self examination are benign. However, don’t ignore anything. Talk to your doctor, who can perform a mammogram and other tests. For more information on breast cancer awareness, please visit www.breastcancer.org.  To schedule an appointment with a UAB Medical West physician, call 996-WEST.