In 2014, in the United States, 236,968 women and 2,141 men were diagnosed with breast cancer. According to the CDC, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women of all ethnicities, and the most common cause of death from cancer among Hispanic women. In that same year, 41,211 women and 465 men in the United States died from breast cancer.
Cervical cancer is another cancer that affects women worldwide, though its numbers have dropped significantly over the past 40 years. The CDC claims that “the decline largely is the result of many women getting regular Pap tests*, which can find cervical precancer before it turns into cancer.”
Routine checkups work and are vitally important to preventative care. This month, we spoke with Courtney Miller, WHNP, BC, from Elite Women’s Health about breast cancer, cervical cancer, prevention and what makes Elite Women’s Health OBGYN special.
Courtney Miller holds a master’s degree in nursing and has been a board-certified Women’s Health nurse practitioner since 2007. She has practiced at both Elite Women’s Health OB/GYN locations, and as the lead nurse practitioner at a breast health clinic, in Chicago, Illinois (2009–2014). There, she received specialized training in benign and malignant diseases of the breast.
Please tell us a little about what makes Elite Women’s Health stand out?
Elite Women’s Health prides itself on giving elite, customized care to each and every patient who comes to our practice. We believe each patient is unique and different, and with that comes providing customized care. We believe our patients deserve individualized time with each of our providers, and we work to not rush them. We want everyone who leaves our office to feel that they got ELITE care, from the moment they speak to our front desk staff, to the moment they walk out our doors.
How often should women be doing breast self exams?
Ideally, women should check their breasts monthly by performing a SBE (self breast exam). There is no wrong way to check your breasts, as long as patients are taking the time to check both of them.
How do I do a self exam?
The easiest way to perform a SBE (Self Breast Exam) is in the shower the week after your cycle ends, if you have one. Normal breast tissue is soft and not tender. If you find an area that is hard, consistent with the feeling of a pea or tender to the touch, you should call your health care provider.
To reiterate a bit, if I find a lump during my routine self exam, what is the first thing I should do?
If you find a lump, remain calm and call your gynecologist. The good news is 90 percent of all palpable lumps are benign (not cancerous). However, you still need to follow up in order to take the steps necessary to figure out what the lump may be. Often times, it’s normal breast tissue.
At what age am I supposed to start getting mammograms? What is that process like?
The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends:
- Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screenings with mammograms if they wish to do so.
- Women ages 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
- Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every two years, or can continue yearly screening.
- Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.
A mammogram itself only takes about 10 minutes and there is no recovery after. Mammograms are relatively painless procedure.
Can you tell us what is involved in the genetic testing for breast cancer and who should have it done?
BRCA testing is a genetic test for patients with a family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer. This test is appropriate for patients who:
- Have had family members under the age of 50 with breast cancer, or have three or more relatives of any age with breast cancer.
- Patients with a family history of ovarian cancer, at any age.
- Or if the patient has a personal history of breast and/or ovarian cancer.
Knowing your family cancer history is important. For those who are unable to get that history due to a closed adoption, separation from family, etc., would genetic testing be a good idea?
It may be helpful. Each patient’s personal history (such as a history of an abnormal mammogram and/or breast biopsy) is different. It would depend on the patient’s symptoms, medical history and whatever details they would possibly know about family.
We hear more and more about HPV and cervical cancer. Is this something I should be worried about for my teen?
I don’t think you should be worried, but rather be informed about options.
Every teenager in the U.S. (both boys and girls) has the HPV vaccination series available to them, which they can obtain from their pediatrician or primary care office. Most health departments also offer HPV vaccinations. This is the first step in preventing of the spread of HPV, which is a cause of cervical cancer. At the age of 21, women start cervical cancer screening in the form of Pap and HPV testing. This should be performed yearly or as directed by your health care provider. Taking these preventative steps can greatly reduce the chances of your teenager, or you, developing cervical cancer.
If a Pap smear comes back abnormal, does that mean I am at a higher risk for cervical cancer?
There are many different types of abnormal Paps and many different strains of HPV. If you have been told your Pap is “abnormal,” take the steps in following up with your pap. There are cases where patients will come in multiple times over the course of 1–2 years following an abnormal pap. Be sure to get all your information about what abnormal Pap you had, and how your gynecologist would like you to follow up.
Do all strands of HPV cause cervical cancer?
No, there are over 100 types of HPV and only a handful can cause cervical cancer.