You have heard it a thousand times: “You have to have a mammogram once a year to detect possible breast cancer in time.” Well, that is not totally true, or at least it is not in all cases: it depends on your age. And it is that undergoing this test too soon can bring you more problems than benefits, as explained by Dr. Silvia Pérez Rodrigo, head of Breast Radiology at the MD Anderson Cancer Center de Madrid and from Hospital Quiron La Luz: “Periodic mammograms before the age of 35 is not indicated, because, starting so young, the radiation accumulated after many years would increase the risk of developing breast cancer in the long term.”
So what do I have to do? you may be wondering, especially these days when we are bombarded with so many messages about this disease, since October 19 is celebrated International Day Against Breast Cancer. To begin with, you should lead a life as healthy as possible, because that way you will reduce the risk of suffering from this ailment by up to 40%, according to Emilia Gómez Pardo, doctor in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and scientific advisor to the Cris Against Cancer Foundation. Specifically, you must comply with these five guidelines: have an adequate weight; eat well (become fond of vegetables, fruits and legumes, and forget to eat red meat every other day); exercise (turn off Netflix and get off the couch!); reduce alcohol consumption as much as possible and avoid tobacco (you already have another reason to quit smoking once and for all).
Breast Cancer: Expert Information for Prevention
Leading a healthy life is quite obvious, but when it comes to the medical part it is not so easy to clarify. Once we have learned that before age 35 you should NOT have mammograms, we are going to solve other questions with the help of Dr. Pérez Rodrigo.
Should I do self-exams?
Yes. “One of the most important things for patients under 35 years of age is that they have regular exploration to find out their breast type. Although they are usually breasts full of lumps, if suddenly something different came out they would notice and could go to the gynecologist. This will refer them to the radiologist when necessary, and in those cases a breast ultrasound will be performed ”, explains the doctor.
What is a breast ultrasound?
Like the mammogram, it serves to take a kind of photo of the area. But unlike her, “it does not emit radiation and the patient is lying on a stretcher, not standing up,” says Pérez Rodrigo.
What is the correct way to do a self-examination?
“Stand in front of the mirror with one arm raised. With the other, go making circular movements around the nipple, in a clockwise direction. Pinch yourself around the areola to see if any fluid comes out of the nipple. Then go up to touch the armpit area. And repeat the same steps with the other breast, ”says the radiologist. She recommends following this process between 6 and 16 days after your period comes down. Look closely if you notice any new lumps or if you see redness, asymmetries between the two breasts, a hole in the skin, hardness, changes in skin color or an inversion of the nipple.
If I notice a lump, do I have to be scared?
“It is considered an alarm sign, so you have to go to the doctor. However, it is advisable to wait a few days after the period is over, in case it disappears ”, says the radiologist. But do not start to tremble before your time: Dr. Silvia Pérez Rodrigo says that, in young women, “most of the lumps are fibroadenomas and therefore benign”.
What is the difference between a fibroadenoma and a cyst?
“Fibroadenoma is like a lump that comes out inside the breast and sometimes it is also noticeable on the outside. It is as if you get a mole on your skin. However, when we detect it for the first time, we have to carry out ultrasound checks every little time, to check that it does not change, because in that case we would have to perform a biopsy ”. As for cysts, they are “little balls of fluid inside the breast and usually do not need to be controlled.” Eye: both fibroadenoma and cyst are benign lesions.
If there is a history of breast cancer in my family, should I take more precautions than other girls my age?
According to the doctor, this factor increases the chances that you will also suffer from the disease. “It is important to know which relatives and at what age they have had it, because that will determine when you have to start having imaging studies,” he says. For example, if your mother suffered breast cancer at age 45, you should start evaluating yourself at age 35, according to European recommendations.
What is the difference between a gynecologist and a radiologist?
The first will perform a physical examination and configure your medical history. “Radiologists are specialists in seeing the breast inside, using image methods. We decide which tests are the most appropriate to be able to be sure that a patient has nothing or, on the contrary, presents a finding that requires further study ”, summarizes the expert from the MD Anderson Cancer Center.