Breast Health Vital Year Round

The color pink is just about everywhere right now. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the color pink is tied to raising awareness about the disease, which affects 1 in 8 women. But putting the color pink on everything from NFL jerseys to rubber bracelets isn’t enough; more still needs to be done to educate women about the disease and preventative screenings.

After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women. Most of the time, women may not notice anything is wrong, which is why mammograms are so important. Mammograms, which is basically an x-ray of your breast tissue, are the No. 1 way to spot breast cancer. When caught early before it has the chance to spread to other parts of the body, the cure rate for breast cancer is more than 90 percent.

The American Cancer Society recommends that all women over the age of 40 receive mammograms regularly. The risk for getting breast cancer increases as a woman ages, which is why it’s important that post-menopausal women still get annual mammograms. Some women shy away from the annual screen because they worry it will be painful since the mammography machine squeezes breast tissue so the technician can capture a clear image. If you’re worried about pain, try to schedule the mammogram one of the days after your period ends when your breasts are less swollen. You may also consider taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen beforehand to ease any pain. Mammograms, including preparation, take between 15-20 minutes.

Women with a family history of breast cancer are advised to begin their annual mammograms earlier than age 40. Talk with your physician about what is right for you.

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurers need to cover the cost of mammograms. Women also don’t need a referral to get one. That means women can contact the ThedaCare Breast Center at Theda Clark Medical Center in Neenah or at Encircle Health in Appleton on their own to schedule a mammogram.

A great idea for women is to schedule their mammogram six months after their annual physical or PAP smear, so they are getting their breasts checked by a health care professional twice a year.

While mammograms are the most effective way to screen for cancer, women should also check their breasts monthly for any lumps or changes, such as skin dimpling. A good time to do this is usually a few days after their period ends since they are less likely to be tender. If a woman notices anything, she should contact her medical provider. Other warnings signs, including nipple discharge or breast pain, also warrant a call to the doctor.

“Breast cancer” are two words no woman wants to hear, but with annual mammograms doctors are more likely to catch it early before it spreads to other parts of the body where it can do greater damage.

Scott Schuldes is a certified family nurse practitioner and associate medical director at ThedaCare Physicians-Hilbert. He can be reached at