Breasts, like women's bodies, come in all shapes and sizes. They change many times and in many ways over a woman's lifetime. Getting to know how your breasts normally feel and look is the first step in promoting good breast health.
The biggest concern in breast health is breast cancer. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women. This year, more than 200,000 women in the United States will find out they have breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
But there is good news. When breast cancer is found early, it is more likely to be successfully treated. To find breast cancer and other breast health problems early, the American Cancer Society recommends:
Mammograms every year for women age 40 and older.
If you are over 40, you should have a mammogram every year as long as you are in good health. Mammograms are one of the best ways to find cancer at its earliest stages, when it is more likely to be treated successfully.
Regular Clinical Breast Exams.
If you are in your 20s or 30s, you should have a clinical breast exam (CBE) by a doctor or nurse practitioner every three years. This can be part of your regular checkup or physical with your health care provider. If you are 40 or older, you should have a CBE every year. It is a good idea to have the CBE shortly before the mammogram. You can also use the CBE to learn what your own breasts feel like.
Optional Breast Self Exams (BSE).
BSE is an option for women starting in their 20s. BSE has some benefits and some limitations. Talk to your health care provider about how to do BSE, and whether it is a good option for you.
At any age and at any time, you should tell your health care provider right away if you notice any changes in how your breasts look or feel. It is especially important to see your doctor if you notice any of these changes:
- an unusual lump or swelling,
- skin irritation or dimpling,
- nipple pain or the nipple turning inward,
- redness-scaliness of the nipple or breast skin, or
- a discharge other than breast milk.
Remember that most of the time these breast changes are not cancer. For more information on breast health and breast cancer, you can visit the National Cancer Institute's breast cancer pages or the American Cancer Society's breast cancer pages.
A mammogram is a special x-ray that takes a picture of your breast. By looking at the picture, doctors can see even very small lumps or abnormalities. Mammograms use very small doses of radiation, so they do not hurt you or your breasts. There are two kinds of mammograms:
- A screening mammogram is a routine test to look at your breasts for any changes since your last mammogram.
- A diagnostic mammogram is a special mammogram requested by your doctor to check a lump or other abnormality.
Mammograms can find 90% of breast cancers in women over 50. Studies show that mammograms can find breast cancer up to two years before a woman feels a lump.
A Mammogram Technologist will take a picture of one breast at a time. To get a clear picture, the machine squeezes your breast when it does the scan. Mammograms do not harm your breasts and your entire appointment should last less than 30 minutes.
Although mammograms may be uncomfortable for some women, they usually don't hurt. To be as comfortable as you can, schedule your mammogram for the week after your period starts. If you don't have your period anymore, you can schedule your mammogram at any time. On the day of your appointment, don't wear deodorant or perfume on your underarms or breasts. All technologists at CHA who do mammograms are women. Translation services are available on request. If you need translation services, please ask when you make your appointment.
Cambridge Health Alliance makes it easy for you to make an appointment for a screening mammogram in two simple steps:
- Know the name of your primary care provider.
- Call 617-665-1298to make an appointment at our 2 mammogram locations:
Some evening testing sessions are available. The Breast Health Initiative also offers group education and screening sessions on certain Saturdays throughout the year. Please call the Breast Health Coordinator at 617-591-6925 for more information.
Mammograms are paid for by MassHealth, Commonwealth Care, Medicare, and many private health insurance plans.
For help finding a primary care provider, or to find low-cost health insurance options that are right for you, please call the CHA Doctor Finder line at: 617-665-1305.
CHA's Breast Health Initiative offers support for patients who want to get a mammogram. With generous support from the Avon Foundation, we offer:
Help with your appointment.
We can help you make your mammogram appointment and we will remind you the day your mammogram is scheduled. We can also help with transportation so you can be sure to make your appointment.
Support during your mammogram appointment.
Some women are embarrassed, uncomfortable or reluctant to get their mammogram. We are happy to go to the mammogram appointment with you to make sure you are comfortable.
Mammography education and screening events.
You can make an appointment to come to one of our screening events, offered at the Cambridge Hospital campus on scheduled Saturdays. At these events, you can learn more about breast health, meet other women from the community, and get a mammogram.
We have brochures and flyers that can help you learn more about breast health and mammograms.
Referral to other resources.
We can put you in touch with other important healthcare resources, including low- or no-cost health insurance programs you might qualify for.
Please contact the Breast Health Program Coordinator at (617) 591-6925 to find out more about how we can help you get a mammogram. We speak English, Spanish, Haitian Creole and Portuguese.