Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does, Part 20: Breast Exams

pink nursesWelcome to the latest installment of “Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does,” a series on Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona’s blog that highlights Planned Parenthood’s diverse array of services — the ones Jon Kyl never knew about.

The following guest post comes to us via Rebecca Brukman, one of Planned Parenthood Arizona’s communications interns.

The sweet smell of toasted pumpkin seeds fills the air. Trees free themselves from the heat of summer as they shed their green leafy attire and flaunt their vibrant, golden red, orange, and yellow hues. You can feel the joy and excitement in department stores as the shelves are filled to the brim with Halloween candy and costumes galore. Autumn is upon us — which means it’s time for Breast Cancer Awareness Month!

The more you know, the more we can help!

Since 1985, the month of October has been recognized as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. With their pink ribbons in hand, survivors, supporters, and strangers alike will join in unison throughout the month to participate in a variety of fundraising-based events to raise awareness about the disease.

As the largest reproductive health care provider in the state, Planned Parenthood Arizona (PPAZ) is dedicated to providing affordable, accessible, and reliable health care to everyone. PPAZ is a crucial partner and resource in the fight against breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Screening Exams Save Lives

A breast exam is simply a way to check for abnormalities in the breast tissue; these usually manifest themselves in the form of lumps and other indicators of concern. In this past year alone, Planned Parenthood health centers nationwide were responsible for facilitating approximately 750,000 clinical breast exams.

breast-examAnother component of the exam is to understand the concept of “breast self-awareness.” For example, during a clinical breast exam at Planned Parenthood, a physician will teach patients how to regulate the health of their breasts on their own — they will show patients how to assess how their breasts look and feel, compare the size of each breast, asking questions like: Is one bigger or smaller than the other, or are they the same size? These topics allow patients to take an authoritative, leading role in regulating their overall health and well-being. A focal point of the exam becomes teaching; patients leave with the tools they need to make successful decisions pertaining to their health in the future.

It is recommended that women in their 20s and 30s get a breast exam every one to three years; women 40 and older are encouraged to get a breast exam every year. Additionally, a mammogram allows doctors to detect growths that may be too small to be felt during a regular breast exam. Both the American Cancer Society and Planned Parenthood recommend that women in their 40s get mammograms annually, while the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends getting mammograms every other year beginning at age 50.

Similar to other primary care practitioners and gynecologists, Planned Parenthood does not provide mammography services, but rather refers patients to other facilities that can efficiently assist and address the needs of the patient accordingly. Restricted economic means are no reason for an individual to receive a lower standard of health care — if a mammogram is required for a patient’s health, Planned Parenthood can refer patients to organizations that provide free or low-cost mammography.

Early Detection is Critical

Breast cancer screenings help detect the disease in its earliest stages, when it is the most treatable. It has been proven that women who discover breast cancer early on will live longer, healthier lives. More than 9 out of 10 women who detect breast cancer early will extend their lives by at least five years; a majority will live much longer.

You Are Not Alone in the Fight Against Breast Cancer

We can all identify at least one person who has had the disease — approximately 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer at some point in her lifetime. Take a moment to think about one person in your life who, at some point or another, was impacted by this disease. For some of you, this individual may have been a family member, a close friend, a spouse, or colleague. In this day and age, breast cancer has become one of the harsh realities of life; after skin cancer, it is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in American women.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month provides us with the opportunity to celebrate life. It is a symbol of the dedication and passion of communities throughout the nation — communities that will stop at nothing until there is a cure for this disease. We are all united in the fight.

Next time you find yourself strolling through a path filled with autumn leaves or taking in the tantalizing aroma of toasted pumpkin seeds, consider wearing a pink ribbon to stand in solidarity with those among us who are impacted in some way by breast cancer.

Take an active role in your health and wellness and remember that PPAZ is always available to you as a resource for all of your health-related concerns. United we stand to fight for the cure, so too should we band together to support access to health care and education on all levels for everyone in our communities.

If you’re interested in scheduling a breast exam, contact your local Planned Parenthood Arizona health center. Additionally, if you are interested in mammography, our staff can refer you to providers, including free or low-cost options if affordability is a concern. More information about breast care at Planned Parenthood can be found here.