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Breast health is in your hands

Your breasts go through many changes during life, including puberty, menstruation, having a baby and the natural aging process. 

Amidst all of these changes, it is essential that you pay close attention to what is normal for your breasts. 

While breasts may vary in size and shape, by developing breast self-awareness you are able to notice changes that could be cause for concern.

Of course, breast self-awareness is only a small part of breast health. To provide you with a more comprehensive look at breast cancer protection and prevention, Kimberly C. Hutcherson, MD, the medical director of Breast Imaging at the Gwinnett Breast Center, a service of Gwinnett Medical Center, shares her insight.

1. Know Your Breast Cancer Risk 

Know your family history, both maternal and paternal and consult with your doctor to learn more about your risk for breast cancer. There are many factors that can increase your risk of developing breast cancer, including:

• Your age

• Age at 1st menstrual period

• Age at 1st child birth

• Number of breast biopsies

• Breast biopsy which yielded atypical hyperplasia

• Race and ethnicity

• Genetic mutation (BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene or genetic syndrome)

• Mantle radiation therapy (in lymph node areas on the neck, chest and under the arm)

2. Get Screened

Schedule an annual screening mammogram beginning at age 40, if you are at average risk

If you are at higher risk, talk with your doctor about additional or alternative screening tests that might be right for you. This can include tomosynthesis (tomo), a 3D mammogram that is more detailed and is significantly more likely to find more invasive cancers earlier, or a breast MRI.

3. Know What is Normal for Your Breasts

While breast self-examination (BSE) is not recommended for breast cancer screening, for several reasons, it can help you to become more familiar with what is normal for your breasts. While BSE does not screen for breast cancer, by becoming more aware of your breasts, you are more likely to notice changes, even if they are small. 

If you notice any of the following changes, see your doctor. These are not considered normal and will not go away without treatment. By notifying your doctor promptly, you are protecting yourself with early detection.

• Lump, thickening or focal pain in the breasts or in the armpit (swollen lymph nodes) 

• Swelling, warmth, change of color (redness or darkening of the breasts)

• Change in size or shape of breasts

• Pulling in of the nipple or skin of the breasts

• Change in the nipple – scaly sore, rash, itchy 

• Nipple discharge, especially if bloody, nonspontaneous (happens without squeezing), persistent and one-sided. Many nipple discharges that can be squeezed out which appear watery, greenish/yellow, brown, grey or milky can be normal. However, any discharge should not be ignored and you should see your doctor for evaluation and to receive a diagnosis.

4. Make Healthy Lifestyle Choices

The importance of healthy lifestyle choices cannot be stressed enough. When you make the choice to implement healthy behaviors, you are not only preventing breast cancer, you are preventing numerous other diseases and cancers, too. Try incorporating more of these into your routine:

• Achieve & maintain a healthy weight: Excess weight is stressful for your entire body. While losing weight can be difficult, it doesn’t have to be. Utilize experts to help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight for the long term. 

• Exercise & stay active: Regular physical activity has countless benefits, both physical and psychological. By incorporating at least one hour of exercise a day, you will significantly decrease health risks. 

• Limit alcohol intake:  In regards to alcohol intake, the key to staying healthy is moderation. By routinely having more than one or two drinks per day, your cancer risk is increased. 

• Quit smoking: Smoking increases your risk of developing several different types of cancer. To stop smoking for good, talk with your physician, who can recommend aids and medications, to aid the quitting process. 

5. Make Breast Health a Routine 

Stay up-to-date on cancer screenings by scheduling annual screening mammograms every year beginning at age 40. Experts have found that by getting routine mammograms, the severity of breast cancer can be significantly reduced by detecting cancer early when treatment is more effective to save lives. In addition, by getting your regular screening mammogram, specialists are able to find and remove abnormal areas before they become cancer. 

6. Ignorance is not Bliss 

Don’t keep yourself in the dark. For many women, breast cancer is still one of the most feared health conditions. While it is a serious condition that should not be taken lightly, it should not deter you from being proactive in your fight against breast cancer. The truth is, if you have breast cancer, diagnosed or not, it will not go away on its own. By choosing not to seek medical attention if you are at a high risk of developing breast cancer, or showing signs and symptoms, you are wasting valuable time. 

By adopting breast self-awareness techniques and practicing healthy lifestyle behaviors, as well as routine medical screenings, you are significantly reducing your risk of developing breast cancer. Furthermore, the personalized care available to you through Gwinnett Medical Center’s Gwinnett Breast Center program ensures that you have all the diagnostic, treatment and resources that you need when it comes to breast health. Their breast health experts are passionate about caring for the entire individual. As a team, they strive to provide comprehensive and compassionate care at every stage of the healing process. Learn more at