Wellness over 5 years ago by Liz Adams

All About the Boobs

The boob post! A few weeks ago I spoke on Instagram about my boobs. Haha, that sounds like such a funny way to start a blog post but I received such amazing feedback and I want to keep you all informed.

I’ll start at the beginning…in November I started feeling a consistent pain in my left breast. It wasn’t constant but it was there enough to cause concern. My grandmother had breast cancer at 41 which has always been in the back of my mind. I had asked my OB-GYN a few years ago if that means I should get tested early and she said that she recommends a mammogram for those that are 10 years younger than their closest relative at the time they were diagnosed (so when I was 31). I was nursing Jack at that time and you have to wait at least 6 months from when you stop nursing to get a mammogram (just FYI). So I called in January and had my mammogram in early February. It was quick and painless and I anxiously waited 10 days for the results to arrive that reported “no signs of breast cancer” woohoo! but there was another paragraph that said (to some extent) “you do have dense breast tissue which makes it more difficult to detect signs of breast cancer and we recommend a more consistent routine of evaluation.” I didn’t really think anything of it – it said no breast cancer, yay! and I talked to my mom who also has dense breast tissue. However, a week later I got a letter from my OB-GYN (so after she reviewed my mammogram results) recommending that I go to a High Risk Cancer Center for further evaluation. Enter all of the fear.

Dense breast tissue appears white on a mammogram, as do some abnormal breast changes, such as calcifications and tumors. This can make a mammogram harder to read and may make it more difficult to find breast cancer in women with dense breasts. (source)

There is now a law in place (in 36 states!) that requires when a patient’s mammogram indicates they have dense breast tissue, providers must send a summary of the report to that patient. Text similar to the following statement must also be included:

“Your mammogram indicates you have dense breast tissue. Dense breast tissue is normal and identified on mammograms in about 50 percent of women. Dense breast tissue can make it more difficult to detect cancer on a mammogram and may be associated with an increased risk for breast cancer.

Despite these limitations, screening mammograms have been proven to save lives. Continue to have routine screening mammography whether or not additional exams are suggested for you. This information is provided to raise your awareness of the impact of breast density on cancer detection. For further information about dense breast tissue, as well as other breast cancer risk factors, contact your breast imaging health care provider.” (source)

Can you believe they used to never inform women of this??!! It would just say “no signs of breast cancer!” and you just move along with your life until your next mammogram. Such an important law and if you know you have dense breast tissue then you should talk to your OB-GYN and get tested early (insurance must cover you over 35 years of age). For me, that meant that my insurance may not cover all of my mammogram but I personally didn’t care because of my concern. Now I’m so grateful that I went!

So a couple of weeks ago I had an appointment at Dupage Medical Group’s High-Risk Cancer Center at Edward’s Hospital in Naperville. I saw Jayme Leavy, an Advanced Practice Nurse who basically knows everything about boobs. She was AMAZING. The purpose of my appointment was to confirm that I was High Risk due to my dense breast tissue and family history. We talked for a while before she did an in-depth personal exam. I learned so much! Here is what you should know:

How do I know if I have dense breasts?

Breast density can only be determined by mammograms. It is not related to size or firmness. It’s very common and not abnormal at all! But definitely something to be aware of. There are 4 categories of breast density (I’m a 3). They go from all fatty tissue to extremely dense and very little fatty tissue. You have a higher risk of breast cancer if you are 3-4 in density. 

Know Your Normal!

Get to know your boobs! Everyone is different. Define what is normal for your breast tissue – which extends up to your collarbone, into your armpits and into your breastbone so that if something changes then you are equipped to notice.

Know the Signs & Symptoms 

  • swelling, soreness or rash
  • change in size or shape
  • dimpling or puckering (as if something is irritating/pulling from within)
  • itchy, scaly sore or rash around nipple
  • warmth, redness, darkening
  • flat or inverted nipples
  • nipple discharge
  • new, persistent pain in one spot
  • bumps the resemble bug bites
  • a lump that feels like a frozen pea
  • persistent itching

If any of these last for more than two weeks, call your doctor! Soft, mobile lumps that come and go with your period are common and typically normal! When I talked to Jayme about my breast pain, she said it is most likely related to my period. She also said that it could be related to a stimulant in my diet – like too much coffee. She reminded me that our boobs are very sensitive to stimulants and a lot to times we consume things that affect our boobs. Our bodies are crazy!

In terms of next steps, because I am considered high risk (based on strong family history and density), Jayme recommended that I have an MRI along with my yearly mammogram. I’ve also decided to do genetic testing to see if I have the BRCA gene. I would have never known that I had dense breast tissue if I hadn’t asked to have my mammogram early. A reminder that I am not a doctor and your first step for any concern should be to see your doctor! They can help you figure out next steps. The more you know, the better! Let your boobs be your best friend. Love them. Treat them well!

You can also visit AssessYourRisk.org to get a better understanding of your personal risk!