Love Your Breasts, Know Your Breasts, Listen to Your Breasts

With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we talked to some survivors and healthcare providers to get a better idea of knowing the signs of breast cancer, how people deal with having cancer, and having an overall appreciation for the doctors that treat those with breast cancer and the patients that have/are going through having cancer. As young women, it is extremely important to have a good understanding of what breast cancer is, how to detect it and what to do if you find a lump.

First we talked to Dr. Warren Scott, a physician in the Women’s Health Center on our own campus, to learn a little more about breast cancer.

Her Campus South Carolina: What is self-examination and how can women conduct it?

Dr. Warren Scott: Breast cancer is  the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women in the United States besides skin cancer.  It is the second leading cause of death from cancer in American women, second only to lung cancer.   A woman living United States has a lifetime risk of developing Breast cancer of 1/ 8 and a lifetime risk of dying from breast cancer of 1/36.  Breast cancer is most commonly found in women but can also occur in men.  Some of the most important risk factors for breast cancer include being a female, age greater than 65 years old, certain genetic mutations, and close relatives with diagnosed breast cancer.  Some less important risk factors include not having had any children, never having breast-fed and using hormones.

Breast cancer screening usually involves a mammography, clinical breast examination performed by a medical professional, and patient’s self-examination. The breast self-examination is a performance of an examination in a systematic way on a regular basis palpating for any changes in the breast tissue. This includes the area into the arm pit which also has breast tissue. The recommendation for self breast examination has been questioned in recent years. Women who perform breast examinations versus those who do not, did not show any significant improvement in survival of breast cancer. Despite this information, periodic breast examinations are still encouraged as is self awareness of any other part of your body.  

HCSC: What are some early signs of breast cancer?

Dr. WS: Some of the warning signs of breast cancer include the change in look or feel of the nipple and possibly nipple discharge:  1. A lump or hard knot palpable in the breast or under the arm, 2. Swelling, warmth, redness and darkness of the breast that doesn’t improve, 3. Change in the size or shape of the breasts, 4. Dimpling or puckering in the skin of the breast, 5. Skin changes such as a rash or sore that doesn’t improve.

HCSC: What is a mammogram and when should women begin getting them done?

Dr. WS: Screening Mammograms are typically performed in women after 40 years old every year or every other year and after 50 every year.  If symptoms develop or personal history shows an increased risk, earlier mammography may be performed.  Breast imaging in young women in their teens and 20s is typically performed via ultrasound.

HCSC: What are some of the biggest misconceptions out there about breast cancer? (For example, are there myths out there about certain methods of prevention? Or maybe the likelihood of survival.)

Dr. WS: Some of the common myths about breast cancer that are not true include: 1. young women do not get breast cancer, 2. deodorant and antiperspirants can cause breast cancer. 3.  drinking from a plastic water bottle can cause breast cancer.

HCSC: What steps do you take to help women learn more about breast cancer and how to be aware of the signs?

Dr. WS: We encourage individuals with concerns to see a Women’s Health provider or their regular gynecologist. We also recommend women do an annual well-woman visit and have her breasts examined during this annual appointment.

Thank you, Dr. Scott for the very important facts about breast cancer! 

Next we talked to breast cancer survivor, Julie Littleton, who was diagnosed with Stage 2B breast cancer. This means that the tumor found is between two to five centimeters and has spread to the lymph nodes, or is bigger than five centimeters but has not spread to the lymph nodes. She was given her diagnosis back in 2014 and has since kicked cancer’s butt!

Her Campus South Carolina: How did you find out you had breast cancer?

Julie Littleton: I was taking a shower and I found a lump in my right breast. I called my doctor and went in for an appointment. My doctor sent me to get a mammogram. They found a lump and then they did an ultrasound. The ultrasound showed a second lump.

HCSC: How did you cope with the news that you had breast cancer?

JL: Honestly, I was shocked and overcome with different emotions. All I knew was my husband (Mark), kids (Abby and Luke) and I had to have faith and come up with a plan to get through it. Through all the surgeries, chemo, and radiation, the hardest part was when Mark and I had to tell our kids. Seeing their reaction scared me. My son got sick to his stomach and my daughter, who never cries, broke down. Mark and I looked at each other and I remember us having this understanding: how we react to this will be important in how the children will react. We were not going to dwell on the negative and say, “woe is me” We were going to be positive!

HCSC: What were some of the things that helped you stay positive?

JL: Mark, Abby, and Luke! Family! Mark kept telling me, this is a marathon not a sprint. Let’s celebrate the little milestones. We tried to keep a normal schedule for the kids. (I worked a majority of the time.) HUMOR…HUMOR…HUMOR…We joked about me being bald…I was Mr. Clean for Halloween. We laughed about me drawing in my eyebrows… I could go into work mad one day with the look of my eyebrows. The humor helped us cope when we were going through something bad. Luke also made a joke after I told him to cover up when he sneezes because he was going to make me sick. Luke replied, “Mom you already have cancer… you got this”.

HCSC: What lifestyle changes have you made since your diagnosis?

JL: We try to eat less processed food. We eat more vegetables and I drink a  “green drink” everyday (which includes kale, wheat grass, spinach, etc.). It helps with side effects with my medication.

HCSC: What is the most important thing that you learned from having breast cancer?

JL: I learned how you react to a life crisis makes a difference. It would have been easy to lay in bed and say I can’t get through the day. I had to be positive on what was going well and not the bad. Celebrate the little things!

After speaking with Dr. Scott and Julie Littleton, we learned that awareness of breast cancer is extremely important. And furthermore, so is the ability to live a happy and healthy life. So use Breast Cancer Awareness Month to take care of yourselves and stay educated, ladies!