Your Health

Finding a lump common but scary

Senior woman with a pill bottle.
Photo of Susan Dennehy SUSAN DENNEHY
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Friday, November 4, 2016

For many people, finding a breast lump can cause worry and concern. Often, the first thought is, "Is this breast cancer?"

In reality, breast lumps are common, and most are not breast cancer. However, finding a new lump or a change in the breast does require an appointment with your health-care provider as soon as possible.

After examining your breast and asking some questions, your health-care provider may suggest you return in two to four weeks to re-examine the breast or may refer you to a specialist for more tests such as a mammogram (an X-ray of the breast) or an ultrasound (which uses sound waves to make a picture inside the body) to look at the lump.

If you are under the age of 35, you may only have an ultrasound scan. This is because it is difficult to get a clear picture of younger women's breasts with a mammogram. More tests do not necessarily mean you have cancer but help take a closer look at your breast.

A breast biopsy may be recommended to test the area of the breast to see if cancer cells are present. This is done by taking small samples of cells or tissue from the breast with a needle. Based on the pathology or test results of the biopsy, some individuals may need treatment for breast cancer.

If breast cancer is diagnosed, the next step involves meeting with a surgeon to discuss treatment options and management. In Winnipeg, a referral may be made to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's Breast Health Centre to see a breast surgeon. Patients are encouraged to bring a support person to that appointment. Along with seeing the surgeon, the health-care team provides support and education for newly diagnosed patients.

For many individuals, the difficult part is waiting for the test results and worrying about what comes next. These feelings are normal. There are many different ways to cope, and there is no right or wrong way. Some people like to get as much information as possible and learn about their options, while others prefer to keep themselves busy with day-to-day activities. Individuals are encouraged to take things one step at a time until a diagnosis is made. Receiving extra support from family, friends or health-care professionals can help increase coping and decrease stress while waiting for the results. Patients are encouraged to ask for help if they need it.

Statistics show one in nine Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Fifty-two per cent of breast cancers will be diagnosed in women 50 to 69 years of age.

With early detection and improved treatments for breast cancer, survival rates continue to rise. If you have received a letter for a breast-screening appointment or if you feel a change in your breasts, it is important to make an appointment.

It's also important to remember breast health involves more than just breast exams. It also includes being familiar with how your breasts look and feel to help you recognize changes in your breast such as lumps, nipple discharge or changes in appearance.

Talk to your health-care provider about your personal risk for breast cancer and ways to reduce your risk. Live the three Bs of breast health: Be Healthy, Be Breast-Aware and Be Informed.

While there is no single action any individual can take to prevent this disease, there are things people can do to reduce their risk and improve their health and wellness.

Susan Dennehy is a clinical nurse specialist with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's Breast Health Centre. This column was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, Nov. 4, 2016.

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