The Importance of Early Detection
- Judith Takes, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, first learned she had a hard lump underneath her arm during a couples massage with her partner. Now, cancer-free after fighting stage three carcinoma, Judith hopes to inspire others to get checked regularly and be aware of any changes in their body.
- When you are diagnosed with stage three breast cancer it typically refers to a relatively large tumor, which may have invaded nearby skin or muscle tissue. It may also mean that lymph nodes near your breast and/or under your armpit are involved.
- Screening for breast cancer is typically done via mammogram, which looks for lumps in the breast tissue and signs of cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) says women should begin yearly mammogram screening for breast cancer at age 45 if they are at average risk for breast cancer. The ACS also says those aged 40-44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year, and women age 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms.
- Breast cancer experts say anyone with a family history of breast cancer, or elevated genetic risk should start screening earlier in consultation with their doctor
Judith first learned she had a hard lump underneath her arm during a couples massage with her partner, a gift she received for her birthday.Read More
Judith, who was informed about the lump after her massage session, took immediate action following the discovery.
“That same day, we got done at Amber’s, got in the car, and I called my family doctor. I said I need to get an appointment ASAP,” Judith explained. “She got me in on that Monday to get a biopsy. By Tuesday, yep, I knew that I had cancer.”
Judith eventually found out that the bump was a swollen lymph node—and was shocked to learn it was cancerous because she insists she does “breast exams all the time.”
However, she did admit didn’t check “that far underneath” her arm, which could be why she never noticed the lump.
After her massage therapist noticed the lump last year, Judith received a stage three carcinoma diagnosis as cancer was discovered in her lymph nodes and her breast.
Having since been declared “clinically free” of cancer after having surgery to remove the cancer and opting out of chemotherapy, Judith is working to spread awareness for prevention.
“I believe in the power of God and if this is my path, it is. And I’m OK with it,” Judith told the news outlet. “It’s a gift. I mean, you can look at it in a negative way and say, ‘Why me?’ Or you can look and say, ‘You know what, it’s opened up my eyes, and I see things differently.'”
Admitting that the lump was found as a “fluke” during her life-saving massage Judith urges others to “more than anything, just pay attention to what is going on with your body.”
“Thank God that Eric gave me the couple’s massage. And thank God Amber’s the one who did it,” Judith concluded.
Stage Three Cancer
When you are diagnosed with stage three breast cancer it typically refers to a relatively large tumor, which may have invaded nearby skin or muscle tissue. It may also mean that lymph nodes near your breast and/or under your armpit are involved.
Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a medical advisor to SurvivorNet and a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, adds “it also means that most women who’ve been diagnosed with stage three cancer are going to end up needing chemotherapy and if their tumor is hormone receptor positive, likely aggressive hormone therapy, as well.”
In Judith’s case, she was able to have the cancer removed through surgery.
How To Perform Self-Exams
Getting to know how your breasts look and feel may be one of the best ways to recognize when something is not quite right. “When we think about breast cancer prevention and awareness, the first step is that women need to feel comfortable with their breast and know what their breasts feel like normally,” says Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and an advisor to SurvivorNet. Here’s how, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation:
- While standing straight in front of a mirror, place your hands on your hips and look at your breasts for any swelling, bulging, changes in shape of breast or nipple (inverted), redness, rashes, or any fluid leaking. Then do the same with your arms in the air.
- Next, while lying down, use your right hand to examine your left breast and vice versa, while using your first three fingers to apply pressure. Ensure you cover the entire breast area, from your collarbone to below your ribcage and from your armpit to your cleavage area. Do the same self-exam standing or sitting up. Be sure to use light to medium pressure for the middle breast area and firmer pressure when feeling deep breast tissue.
Once you get the hang of it, Dr. Comen recommends you do it once a month – after your period. However, it should be emphasized that breast self-examination is NOT a replacement for mammography.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Being aware of how your breasts normally look and feel is an important factor when it comes to breast cancer detection. Doing regular self-exams is one way to familiarize yourself with how your breasts normally feel so that you will be able to identify anything out of the ordinary like a lump or hard mass.
Below are some other symptoms to look out for:
- New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit)
- Any change in the size or shape of the breast
- Swelling on all or part of the breast
- Skin dimpling or peeling
- Breast or nipple pain
- Nipple turning inward
- Redness or scaliness of breast or nipple skin
- Nipple discharge (not associated with breastfeeding)
Of course, these symptoms can be due to things other than cancer. For example, a lot of women experience breast tenderness during certain times in their menstrual cycles. If you’re worried — talk to your doctor about it. They may want to perform an exam, or even schedule a mammogram just to be safe.
The Importance of Breast Cancer Screening
Screening for breast cancer is typically done via mammogram, which looks for lumps in the breast tissue and signs of cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) says women should begin yearly mammogram screening for breast cancer at age 45 if they are at average risk for breast cancer. The ACS also says those aged 40-44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year, and women age 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms.
For screening purposes, a woman is considered to be at average risk if she doesn’t have a personal history of breast cancer, a strong family history of breast cancer, a genetic mutation known to increase risk of breast cancer such as a BRCA gene mutation or a medical history including chest radiation therapy before the age of 30.
Beyond genetics, family history and experience with radiation therapy, experiencing menstruation at an early age (before 12) or having dense breasts can also put you into a high-risk category. If you are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer, you should begin screening earlier.
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Connie Lehman, chief of the Breast Imaging Division at Massachusetts General Hospital, said people who hadn’t reached menopause yet should prioritize getting a mammogram every year.
“We know that cancers grow more rapidly in our younger patients, and having that annual mammogram can be lifesaving,” Dr. Lehman said. “After menopause, it may be perfectly acceptable to reduce that frequency to every two years. But what I’m most concerned about is the women who haven’t been in for a mammogram for two, three or four years, those women that have never had a mammogram. We all agree regular screening mammography saves lives.”
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff