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Breast Cancer Awareness Month: More Than Awareness

The theme for this year’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month is More Than Awareness. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, “For the 31 days of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM), pink ribbons appear as the impact of breast cancer is brought to the forefront of national conversation. But we know that to help those facing breast cancer, awareness alone isn’t enough. This October, get involved. Get screened. Make a donation. Take action. Make this BCAM about more than awareness.”

1 in 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.

In 2023, an estimated 297,790 women and 2,800 men will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. Chances are, you know at least one person who has been personally affected by breast cancer.

It is estimated that in 2023, approximately 30% of all new female cancer diagnoses will be breast cancer.

On average, every 2 minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States.

65% of breast cancer cases are diagnosed at a localized stage (there is no sign that the cancer has spread outside of the breast), for which the 5-year relative survival rate is 99%.

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women.

Black women are most likely to die from breast cancer than women of any other racial or ethnic group. Experts believe that it’s partially because about 1 in 5 Black women is diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, more than any other racial or ethnic group.

About 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer. These occur due to genetic mutations that happen as a result of the aging process and life in general, rather than inherited mutations.

This year, an estimated 43,550 women will die from breast cancer in the U.S.

These statistics are why it is so important to have access to screenings and to make sure you are getting screened per you doctors’ recommendations.

Here is some information from the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) about how to go about scheduling and getting a mammogram:
Overcoming Barriers to Scheduling Your Mammogram

Many women encounter barriers when trying to schedule a mammogram. Often, things like concerns with cost or not knowing who to call can be discouraging when setting up an appointment. This article provides the essential information you need so that you do not miss out on this important exam.
What You Need to Know

Before being able to schedule a mammogram, you might need a referral from a doctor if you are under the age of 40, have already received your annual screening mammogram for the year, have an abnormal breast symptom, or have had breast cancer in the past. If you are 40 years or older and simply seeking a screening mammogram without any of the exceptions mentioned, it’s unlikely you will be asked for a doctor’s referral.
What Type of Mammogram to Schedule

Screening mammogram: If you don’t have any symptoms or pain, and just need your yearly mammogram.

Diagnostic mammogram: If you have continuous and persistent pain, redness, a lump, discharge, or other concerns that need to be evaluated. Diagnostic mammograms are also done after irregular findings in a routine screening mammogram.
Why is it Important to Know the Difference?

Screening and diagnostic mammograms differ in cost and in specialty. If you are paying for your service out of pocket or if your health insurance does not cover your diagnostic mammogram, you’ll want to know ahead of time to be prepared.

While mammograms are an important part of early detection, your earliest defense may be yourself. I think that we can all agree that no one knows our bodies better than we do. This means we are often the first to notice when something isn’t right or the same that it was before — this is where self-exams come in and why they are so critical in the early detection of breast cancer. Now before I go further, here’s your warning; I’m going to be talking about boobies. Specifically, how to do self-breast exams. If, for some reason, that makes you uncomfortable, well it’s a little strange, but no one is forcing you to keep reading. Because we all know that the first line of defense against breast cancer is early detection. And self-exams are the first line in that first line of defense.

Before we get to the details on doing the self-exam, let’s go over a few things. First, ladies, we should be performing self-exams monthly. So, pick a day and stick to it. Whether it’s the first or last day of the month, or maybe your favorite number, or the day that coincides with your birthday; just try to stay consistent. It’s also important remember that self-examines should never replace regular screenings with your doctor.

On to the details!
What are the steps of a breast self-exam?

1. Visual inspection: With your shirt and bra removed, stand in front of a mirror. Put your arms down by your sides. Look for any changes in breast shape, breast swelling, dimpling in the skin, or changes in the nipples. Next, raise your arms high overhead and look for the same things. Finally, put your hands on your hips and press firmly to make your chest muscles flex. Look for the same changes again. Be sure to look at both breasts.

2. Manual inspection while standing up: With your shirt and bra removed, use your right hand to examine your left breast, then vice versa. With the pads of your three middle fingers, press on every part of one breast. Use light pressure, then medium, then firm. Feel for any lumps, thick spots, or other changes. A circular pattern may help you make sure you hit every spot. Then, press the tissue under the arm. Be sure to check under the areola and then squeeze the nipple gently to check for discharge. Repeat the steps on the other side of your body.

3. Manual inspection while lying down: When you lie down, your breast tissue spreads more evenly. This is a good position to feel for changes, especially if your breasts are large. Lie down and put a pillow under your right shoulder. Place your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, apply the same technique as step 2, using the pads of your fingers to press all parts of the breast tissue and under your arm. Finally, swap the pillow to the other side, and check the other breast and armpit. Be sure to check under the areola and then squeeze the nipple gently to check for discharge.
When should I call my doctor about something I find in my breast self-exam?

If you find a lump or any other worrisome changes, stay calm. Most self-exam findings are not signs of breast cancer. But you should still call your healthcare provider if you notice any:
– Change in the look, feel, or size of the breast.
– Change in the look or feel of the nipple.
– Dimpling or puckering of the skin.
– Lump, hard knot, or thick spot in the breast tissue.
– Nipple discharge.
– Nipple or other area pulling inward.
– Pain in one spot that won’t go away.
– Rash on the nipple.
– Swelling of one or both breasts.
– Warmth, redness, or dark spots on the skin.

There you have it. Once again, a self-exam should never replace your regular screenings with your doctor. If you have a 4 or higher at the front of your age, remember that you should be getting yearly mammograms or whatever your PCP recommends.

I also want to note that UPMC is offering $55 Mammograms this month, on several dates, and at several locations.
$55 Mammograms

UPMC is offering $55 mammograms for those with no or limited insurance coverage in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness month. Appointments are limited, and it is necessary to call the phone number of the location that is most convenient to you. Be sure to mention $55 mammograms when scheduling your appointment. Mammograms must be paid by cash or check.

The mammograms will occur at the following locations and times:
• UPMC Muncy, 215 E. Water St. Saturday, Oct. 7, and Saturday, Oct. 21 8 a.m. to noon. 570-321-2545.
• UPMC Wellsboro, 32 Central Ave., Thursday, Oct. 12, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. 570-723-0160.
• UPMC Williamsport Divine Providence Campus, Breast Health Center, 1100 Grampian Blvd., Williamsport, Saturday, Oct. 14, and Saturday, Oct. 28, 7 a.m. to noon. 570-326-8200.

For more information about screenings and Breast Health services at UPMC in North Central Pa., go to

Unfortunately, simply being a woman and aging are the two biggest risk factors for breast cancer. Can’t do much to change that, but you can change other risk factors, such as not smoking, not drinking excessively, and exercising regularly. So, let’s all do our best to mitigate the factors we can control, make sure that we are all do our self-examines, and follow our doctors’ recommendations regarding mammograms and screenings.