Are you Practicing Safe Breast Health?

reconstructive surgeryIn November 2010, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force changed their mammogram guidelines from annually after age 40 to biannually starting at age 50. They also recommended stopping breast self-exams. Their reasoning was that less-frequent mammograms are just as effective in detecting cancer, and self-exams lead to increased and unnecessary doctors’ visits and procedures.

As you can imagine, this created quite a stir among doctors, especially those who have had patients between the ages of 40 and 50 with breast cancer detected by mammogram or self-exams. The data on mammogram effectiveness is conflicting, and women are left wondering about the ramifications of waiting until 50 for their first mammogram. Some physicians and women also wonder whether cost savings plays a role in the recommendations, though the USPSTF says it did not.

Mammograms are the standard of care in detecting breast cancer, and are the best tool we have for early detection. Its technology continues to improve, and currently, digital mammograms are in use in some areas. Most doctors continue to recommend self-exams and annual screenings for patients over 40, with high-risk patients starting mammograms earlier. The American Cancer Society also reviewed its guidelines last year, and it stands by the age of 40 to begin annual mammograms but neither recommended nor discouraged monthly self-exams.

Women under 50 tend to have denser breasts, making tumors difficult to see with mammograms, so for them self-exams are crucial. Most doctors will tell you that they’ve had many, many women find their own lumps during self-exams, and women know better than anyone else does what is normal for their breasts. Doing monthly self-exams is the best way to get to know your breasts so that if a lump does occur, you can detect it as soon as possible and treat it.

We encourage you to talk to your doctor about your individual risk factors and decide which mammogram schedule makes sense for you.

For more information on the USPSTF guidelines, as well as the ACOG revised guidelines for Pap smears, visit

Weird Breast Issues That Aren’t Really Weird At All

breast changesFrom nipple leakage to uneven sizes, our breasts often confuse or scare us. Most of the time, what appears to be a breast problem isn’t a problem at all, but a completely normal occurrence. Breast information isn’t at the forefront of the news unless it’s connected to cancer, so we don’t receive much information about breast issues that aren’t serious.

The following breast issues are typically normal, even though they may seem odd. Let us stress that if you have questions about any breast issue, or feel that something isn’t right, do not hesitate to call your doctor. Always listen to your gut and intuition.

Uneven breast sizes

If you look closely at other parts of your body that come in pairs, such as your eyes, hands, and feet, you’ll see that each one of the pair is different from the other, and this includes your breasts. Some women may find that one breast is a size or two different from the other, and this is normal.

Lumpy breasts

Have you ever driven yourself crazy because you think you’ve found several lumps during a self-exam? This one can be scary, but for some women, lumps are a normal part of their breast tissue. Called fibrocystic breasts, this noncancerous condition is very common, especially among premenopausal women. Dense breast tissue tends to feel lumpy, which is one more reason to know what is normal for your breasts and do thorough monthly self-exams.

Nipple leakage when you’re not pregnant

Nipple leakage is common, and fluid can be almost any color or consistency. Some women experience spontaneous leakage, while for others, the leakage occurs only if the nipple is stimulated. Rarely, leakage signals something more serious, so check with your doctor if you’re concerned or it regularly occurs spontaneously.

Extra nipples

Some men and women are born with extra nipples, much as female animals have. According to Texas ob-gyn Michael Yang, MD, when a fetus forms, it has a milk line with several nipples that runs from the armpits down to the groin. Extra nipples typically disappear before birth, but some don’t, and their appearance ranges from molelike to actual miniature breasts.

Menstrual cycle-related breast changes

Thank your hormones for those breast changes during the month. Estrogen and progesterone increase and decrease during your cycle, which can cause breast tenderness and nipple soreness. If your breasts are unbearably sore, ask your doctor for advice on nutritional support.

Weight gain or loss from breasts

Speaking of breast changes, women often lament the fact that when they lose weight, it comes from their breasts first. Because breasts are mostly fat, it’s normal for them to change size when you lose weight.

Again, call your doctor with any breast-related concerns or questions.