The lumps that aren’t so lovely

I know boobs. I love tits. And, I'm all over breast health. In fact, since I was diagnosed with breast cancer last June, it seems that I’m all about the tatas.

With the disclaimer that I’m not a doctor nor do I play one on TV, here are some responses to questions that I’ve received about the boobies:

Question: I found a lump, and I’m freaking out. What do I do?

Answer: The first time you find a lump is definitely scary. Breathe, do something that helps you relax, and try to remind yourself that you don’t have enough information yet to truly lose it. Breast tissue changes throughout the month because of hormones, and those changes are completely normal.

Wait until after your next period is finished, and do another self-exam. If the lump is still there, then it’s worth making an appointment with your gynecologist or a breast surgeon. (If you're a guy, I would also wait about a month and then make an appointment with your internist.)

Question: You had breast cancer, City Girl! Since I found a lump, I’m worried that I have it, too.

Answer: My health history and my family health history put me at a much greater risk for breast cancer. Please remember, though, that my story is far from the average young woman’s story. The average age for a breast cancer diagnosis in the United States is 61 years.

Over your lifetime, you have a one in eight chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer. But, in your 30s, only one in 233 women receives a positive diagnosis. The odds are slim that a lump that you find in your 20s, 30s, or 40s is cancerous.

I don’t write and talk about breast cancer as a scare tactic, but rather to make young men and women more aware and empowered. It’s important to:

1. Know your body, including your boobs;
2. Work with knowledgeable health care professionals and obtain online information from reliable medical sources;
3. Take control of your health from an early age (and not just so you can look great in a swim suit);
4. Reach out to others who have health problems with compassion; and
5. Talk about health, sex and other medical issues without fear or embarrassment.

Question: I’m worried because I have a lump in my breast that’s painful.

Answer: Pain is never fun or easy to tolerate. However, most painful lumps are benign (non-cancerous). If the lump doesn’t decrease in size and remains consistently painful, you can always schedule a minor surgery to get it removed.

Painful lumps are also common for women with fibrocystic breasts. More than 50% of women deal with this at some point in their lives, and these lumps are completely benign.

Question: I waited until after my next period, and the lump is still there. Should I call the gynecologist?

Answer: That depends. If you’ve never worked with a breast surgeon or had a mammogram before, then yes. I would call your gynecologist to make an appointment for a Clinical Breast Exam. If the gynecologist feels the lump, too, he or she may suggest that you return in six months for a follow-up. Depending on your insurance coverage, I’d ask: 1) for the name and number of a breast surgeon; 2) for the name and number of a breast radiologist; and 3) if you can return in three months.

A breast surgeon’s Clinical Breast Exam will last two or three times longer than the exam that your gynecologist performs. Why is that? The breast surgeon deals with just breasts, while the gynecologist is trained more in issues involving your gynecological and reproductive health. There are general surgeons who perform breast exams and surgeries, but I prefer going to a surgeon who deals with the breast exclusively.

If the gynecologist recommends that you receive a breast ultrasound or mammogram, then make sure that the facility you go to uses digital mammography and has at least one breast radiologist who deals with breasts exclusively.

If you don’t care to wait six months for a follow-up, you don’t need to. You know your body better than anyone. (Check with your insurance provider about coverage for these appointments. Also remember that you can ask any medical provider if you can pay your balance in installments. If you don’t have sufficient coverage, inquire if there’s a clinic in the area. If you’re in the DC area, it’s worth the trip to Sibley Hospital if you have insurance, and the Capital Breast Care Center if you don’t.)

Question: I’ve never felt any lumps. Are there other things that I should be looking out for?

Answer: Yes! Make an appointment with your doctor if:

1. There’s pain under your armpits;
2. There’s discharge from your nipples, or a change in your nipples' color or size;
3. Your breast changes in size or shape;
4. The skin on your breast looks different;
5. You are a man and feel pain in your chest or notice abnormalities in the appearance of your nipples or pectoral area; and/or
6. Anything doesn’t sit well with you. Trust your instincts!

What happens if the doctor wants you to get a sonogram, mammogram or biopsy? What if you or a loved one receives a breast cancer diagnosis? I'll tackle those in future posts. Comment on here or Formspring, Tweet or email me at citygirlblogs (at) gmail with any other questions.

PS If you’re interested in joining my Komen Global Race for the Cure team or making a donation, click here. You can join the team under the “sleep in” option even if you don’t live in DC or are unable to participate in the 5K. There's a promotion code through May 31st to save $5 off the registration fee. Enter HIGH5 in the code box.

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