During the month of October, YNN will be doing a series of stories about breast cancer. In this first story, we explore the importance of early detection, talking to medical professionals about their recommendations for screenings and tests. Iris St. Meran also has information on free screening programs in Onondaga County for women who are uninsured.
ONONDAGA COUNTY, N.Y. -- Doctors say you should be thinking about your breast health way before it's time to get your mammogram. Women in their 20s and 30s should have their breasts examined by a physician. All women should be familiar with their bodies.
Upstate Breast Cancer High Risk Program Director Dr. Jayne Charlamb said, "I try to get women before menopause to know what her breast feels like before her period, during her period, after her period because my goal is for her to know her breasts enough because if she happens to notice something, she's going to say, 'aha there's a change.' You can't notice a change unless you know what it is like normally."
This can be done through a routine breast exam, but how often depends on the individual. Women shouldn't just be looking and feeling for lumps. Be aware of other changes when looking in the mirror.
"A true breast cancer may pull in the normal breast tissue. You can imagine, if you're pulling that in, you might end up with a dimple in your breast skin that you didn't notice. You might only notice it when you squeeze in real tight or maybe when your arms are up. That's something you would want to alert your physician about," said Charlamb.
Dr. Charlamb says there has been some controversy over mammograms because they give off small amounts of radiation, but she says it's the best first line of screening.
Some women who don't have insurance, can't afford it. The Onondaga County Health Department says it can help uninsured women.
Onondaga County Public Health Educator Emily Young said, "We are able to provide free mammograms and also clinical breast exams to women without insurance. And that's for women between the ages of 40 and 64."
This service is provided at private radiology offices and has been available since the 80s. Young says they assist about 800 to 900 people each year.
"It's really rewarding. It's nice to be out in the field and talk to a woman who says I haven't had my mammogram in two years because I don't have insurance and I can't afford it," said Young.
Doctors say a healthy lifestyle can also reduce your risk. If you have concerns due to family history or a self exam, you should contact your doctor for an evaluation.
To learn more about the free screenings in Onondaga County, visit www.ongov.net/health or call (315) 435-3653.