Tag: well-women care

Top 5 Women’s Health Myths Debunked by a Gynecologist

Top 5 Women’s Health Myths Debunked by a Gynecologist

There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding gynecology and obstetrics and with so much information, it can be difficult to determine the truth to take the best possible care of yourself. We have many resources available on our website that explain processes and lay out exactly what you can expect during your visits. Here are some of the myths we most often hear about OBGYNs and the facts that dispel them.

OBGYN Myth #1: It is not necessary to go to the gynecologist unless you are pregnant or have a problem

We hear this a lot, and it cannot be further from the truth. A gynecologist is not just for women who are pregnant or seeking a solution for a gynecologic concern. Going to the gynecologist should be something all women do routinely throughout their lives. For starters, you should begin visiting the gynecologist between the ages of 13 and 15 to begin annual screenings and preventive healthcare. 

Gynecologists offer many resources including birth control, cancer screenings, and family planning options. Plus, your annual gynecology appointment is a great time to discuss any concerns you may have about your body. When and how often you should see a gynecologist depends on many factors including your health concerns and medical history. If you have not already, you should establish a relationship with an OBGYN and see her/him once a year. 

OBGYN Myth #2: If you are on your period, you have to cancel your gynecologist appointment

Whether or not you should cancel your appointment if you’re on your period depends on a few factors: where you are in your cycle, how heavy your bleeding is, why you’re visiting your doctor, and your comfort level. For example, if your flow is light and you are going in for a pap smear, your doctor should still be able to proceed as normal. Before canceling your appointment, call your doctor’s office to discuss the best way to proceed. 

OBGYN Myth #3: You should be getting a pap smear every year

While all individuals with a cervix should start getting pap smears at the age of 21, per the American Cancer Society’s recommendation, the frequency of which you will need to get them varies from person to person. How often you get a pap smear can vary depending on your medical history, health concerns, age, and lifestyle. 

As a baseline, it is recommended that individuals get a pap smear every three years if they’re between the ages of 21 and 29. Those 30 and above can consider getting a pap smear and HPV test every five years if they’ve had normal pap smears in the past.

Of course, you should consult with your healthcare provider and follow their personalized recommendations as to how often you should get one.

OBGYN Myth #4: Pap smears test for STIs

Many individuals are under the impression that a pap smear also screens for sexually transmitted infections but that is not always the case. Some medical providers will automatically test women for infections but not all will. If you’d like to get tested, or have noticed a change in your odor, discharge, or are experiencing pelvic discomfort, you should ask your gynecologist to test for STIs. 

As a baseline, the CDC recommends that everyone who is sexually active should get tested for sexually transmitted infections. Make sure to talk to your gynecologist about which tests are right for your lifestyle.

OBGYN Myth #5: If you get the Gardasil shot or a similar vaccine against HPV, you don’t need a pap smear

The HPV vaccine helps to prevent certain strains of the virus but it does not protect against all strains of the virus and therefore cannot prevent all cases of cervical cancer. It is possible to get HPV despite getting the vaccination. So while getting them is important, vaccines are not always 100% effective. 

It is crucial to continue getting screened for cervical cancer even if you’ve been vaccinated.

How Often You Should Get Tested for STIs

How Often You Should Get Tested for STIs

No matter your relationship status, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) should be on everyone’s health radar. STI rates are higher than ever before in the US, and both chlamydia and gonorrhea have the potential of becoming antibiotic-resistant. While there may be stigmas surrounding STIs that need to be banished, it is important that you are knowledgeable about STIs, their prevalence, and how they can affect you. Too few women are seeking out screening for sexually transmitted diseases

You should not feel ashamed about your sexual activity or STI status, but rather you should take responsibility for your health and safety and that of your sexual partners. The answer to how often you should get tested for STIs may surprise you. 

Getting Tested for STIs

Because STIs are so common, it’s a safe bet to get tested once a year, even if you’re practicing safe sex and using protection. Your doctor may not automatically test you at every appointment so make sure to ask about it if they don’t offer it. 

Here are some testing recommendations for prominent STIs:

STI Testing for Gonorrhea and Chlamydia

  • If you have HIV.
  • If you are sexually active and at risk for STIs, which can include new or multiple sexual partners.

Testing for gonorrhea and chlamydia is done using a cervical swab or a urine test which is then taken to a lab and analyzed. 

STI Testing for Hepatitis, Syphilis, and HIV

While these infections are not as prevalent, you should still get tested for them annually. These are checked with a blood test.

STI Testing for HPV

Certain types of HPV can develop into cervical cancer while other types of the virus can manifest as genital warts. Many people that are diagnosed with HPV in their lives never develop symptoms and the virus typically leaves the body within two years. 

Women may be tested for HPV through a Pap smear or an HPV test. If your pap smear shows abnormal results, your doctor will likely recommend further testing and your doctor may check your cervix for HPV or cancerous cells. 

You should get tested for HPV every few years if you have had an abnormal pap smear in the past. 

STI Testing for Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is a bit harder to test for because there are no concrete tests that can be done to detect genital herpes. A culture of a genital sore may be taken but usually only when you have symptoms. A blood test may be able to help detect a herpes outbreak, but the results are often inconclusive because it will not show if you had exposure to oral or genital herpes. 

The dedicated health professionals at Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care want to restore your peace of mind. If you or a loved one has any questions about STIs or are looking to get treated for them, please contact us today.

Your Questions About Endometriosis Answered

Your Questions About Endometriosis Answered

Women are no strangers to the different ways that menstruation can affect life. For many women, this looks like a monthly bout of bloating, cramps, and occasional mood swings. But if you have endometriosis, symptoms can be far more severe and can halt daily life, leaving you miserable and in pain. If you think you may have endometriosis, you are likely filled with questions: What causes it? What are all of the symptoms of this condition? What are my treatment options? Not to worry, we have answers to the most commonly asked questions about endometriosis and treatment options.

What is Endometriosis?

The inner layer of the uterus is lined with a tissue that is called the endometrium. During menstruation, the tissue grows thicker as the tiny blood vessels multiply to prepare for a fertilized egg. If pregnancy does not occur, the tissue breaks down and the blood exits the body through menstruation. 

Endometriosis is a condition in which the endometrium travels outside the uterus and surrounds other reproductive organs, most commonly the ovaries and the fallopian tubes, or it attaches itself to other tissues in the pelvis. As the endometrium is displaced from the uterus, the extra blood and tissue have no way to exit the body which, in turn, can cause cysts to form on the ovaries. For many women that are diagnosed with endometriosis, this means severe pain during their menstrual cycle. 

Endometriosis occurs in about 1 in 10 women of reproductive age. Most often, it is diagnosed in women who are in their 30s and 40s. 

What Causes Endometriosis?

The cause of endometriosis is unknown. However, endometriosis is a condition more likely to develop in women who have other family members who have been diagnosed with endometriosis, women who have undergone a cesarean, and women who have fewer than 25 days between menstrual cycles. 

Endometriosis is diagnosed first by a physical exam, including a pelvic exam performed by your OBGYN. However, the only way to truly tell if a woman has endometriosis is through a surgical procedure called laparoscopy. Sometimes a bit of tissue will be removed during this procedure in a process called a biopsy. 

What Are The Symptoms of Endometriosis?

Some women with endometriosis do not show symptoms, however, those who do show symptoms experience them right before their period. The most common symptom of endometriosis is chronic (long-term) pain in the pelvic region. Endometriosis can also cause pain during sexual intercourse. Endometriosis can also affect the bowel and bladder causing pain during bowel movements or urination, respectively. Heavy menstrual bleeding is another common symptom of endometriosis. Symptoms can be severe enough that they disrupt daily life and can include

  • Heavy periods
  • Severe lower back pain
  • Intense cramps
  • Intense stabbing pains
  • Severe migraines
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Pain during urination and/or bowel movements
  • Pain during sexual intercourse

Endometriosis can also make it difficult to get pregnant. Almost 40% of women with infertility have endometriosis. The inflammation caused by endometriosis can damage the sperm or egg or interfere with their movement through the fallopian tubes and uterus. In more severe cases of endometriosis, the fallopian tubes may be blocked by adhesions or scar tissue. 

What Are the Treatment Options for Endometriosis?

Treatment for endometriosis will depend on the severity of the condition, the symptoms the patient experiences, and whether or not the patient plans to get pregnant. Endometriosis may be treated with medication, surgery, or both. 

If you or someone you love are suffering from endometriosis, you don’t have to go it alone. The staff at Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care is knowledgeable when it comes to this common condition and we understand what you’re going through. Contact us to schedule an appointment and find the best course of action for you.

What You Need to Know Before Getting an IUD

What You Need to Know Before Getting an IUD

IUDs or intrauterine devices are one of the most popular methods of birth control among women, particularly in recent years. Many women like that it offers many benefits that the pill cannot: it is a “set it and forget it” method of birth control, involving a one-time payment, and the patient does not have to remember to take a pill at the same time on a daily basis. If you are considering getting an IUD, there are a few things you should know before having it inserted

What is an IUD?

An IUD is a small, flexible, T-shaped plastic device that is inserted into the uterus by a healthcare professional. There are five brands of IUD divided into two different types:

  • Copper IUDs (a.k.a. ParaGard)
  • Hormonal IUDs (include Mirena, Kyleena, Liletta, and Skyla)

Hormonal IUDs work by using the hormone progestin to thicken cervical mucus which blocks sperm. Copper IUDs are wrapped in a small bit of copper, are nonhormonal, and act as spermicide, damaging sperm mobility and viability. The body’s response to the IUD varies from person to person; for some, ovulation is prevented too while for others, it is not. Generally, they all work by preventing sperm from getting to the egg. 

The main difference between the two types of IUDs is how long you can keep them in without benign replaced. ParaGard can remain in place for up to 12 years while the Mirena and Liletta can for six years, Kyleena for five years, and Skyla for three years.

IUDs are ranked for the same effectiveness at preventing pregnancy as getting your tubes tied but they do not impact your future fertility. The IUD has a 99% rate of effectiveness, largely because, unlike the pill, it is not something you can forget to take, therefore, there is no user error involved. 

How is an IUD inserted? Is it painful?

In the insertion process, the cervix is opened and the IUD is placed into the uterus. While the insertion process can be slightly painful, the procedure generally takes just a few minutes. You may experience cramping for about 24 to 48 hours after the procedure as this is a common response among women after an IUD is inserted.

Will an IUD affect my period?

Whether or not your period alters, depends on the type of IUD you choose. Hormonal IUDs tend to make periods lighter and shorter and lessen cramps. IUDs may instead cause a heavier period, but this generally fades over time. Every woman reacts differently but if you are concerned about how you may react to an IUD, you should discuss this with your OBGYN during your consultation appointment

What are the pros and cons of an IUD?

In addition to the advantages previously mentioned, IUDs have long-lasting effects but can be reversed simply by removing the IUD. What makes the IUD appealing to many is that you visit an office once to have it inserted then you don’t have to remember on a daily basis to take a pill. It is the most effective but also reversible form of contraception. 

The biggest disadvantage of IUDs is the discomfort they can cause women. There are a wide array of side effects that can come along with them including abdominal or pelvic pain, nausea, vomiting, migraines, headaches, spotting or irregular bleeding, and breast tenderness. The side effects vary depending on which type of IUD you get. 

This does not typically happen but there is a slim chance your IUD could fall out, most commonly during a period in the first three months. Your OBGYN may recommend that you check to feel for the IUD string occasionally but never pull it out. If your IUD does become dislodged, see your OBGYN ASAP to have it reinserted.

Can STDs Cause Infertility?

Can STDs Cause Infertility?

Finding out that you have a sexually transmitted disease (STD) can come with a host of overwhelming emotions including surprise, anger, and fear and even more questions. You wonder if it’s curable or how it will affect your life. You worry about having to tell future sexual partners or how it might affect your plan to have children someday if that is your hope. Whether or not it will affect your fertility depends on your condition as well as how early you detect it. 

Which STDs can cause infertility?

The problem is that some STDs don’t come with identifiable symptoms so people can live with them for years without being aware of them. This increases the risk of developing complications like infertility or infecting future sex partners. Early detection is the best way to avoid such risk as infertility caused by STDs is highly preventable.

Chlamydia

This is one of the most common STDs. On its own, the disease doesn’t cause infertility, however 40% of women with chlamydia develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID affects the cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries, often leading the woman to become infertile. 

Chlamydia is one of the STDs that doesn’t have symptoms so most women that have it are unaware that they do. In some rare cases, a woman may experience signs of the infection including unusual vaginal discharge, a burning sensation while urinating, and painful sex. 

Fortunately, chlamydia can be cured with antibiotics which is why it is so critical that it is caught and treated early.

Gonorrhea

Here is another example of an STD that rarely shows symptoms. People who do show symptoms may experience spotting between periods, burning while urinating, or vaginal discharge that is white, yellow, or green. The infection can affect the urethra and cervix.

Gonorrhea can also be treated with antibiotics but, if left untreated, it can spread to the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. It can cause the fallopian tubes to scar, making it difficult for the sperm to reach and fertilize the egg and also increasing the possibility of the person getting pelvic inflammatory disease. 

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

HPV is the most common STD in the US. This is a group of more than 150 viruses, some of which can lead to cancer of the reproductive organs. Most people don’t have symptoms which is why it’s so important that you are scheduling annual exams with your OBGYN. Detecting HPV early can decrease the risk of it developing into cancer of the vulva or cervix which can cause infertility.

Preventing infertility caused by STDs

Since STDs can remain in the body for years without ever showing signs, all sexually active women should have annual screenings where they are tested for STDs.

Symptoms of Ovarian Cysts and What to Do About Them

Symptoms of Ovarian Cysts and What to Do About Them

While it is pretty common for women to have ovarian cysts, it is important to understand where they come from, how they affect your body, and what you should look for and do about them. Ovarian cysts can come in many different forms and most are pretty harmless. However, when you start to consistently feel bloated, feel sharp random pains, or experience pain during sex, these are signs that you should make an appointment with your OBGYN and get yourself checked out. 

What are ovarian cysts?

Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that can form in a woman’s ovaries, generally during her menstrual cycle and they typically go unnoticed. While most are painless, cysts can become a problem when they are enlarged or don’t go away. 

It is normal for a woman to experience having at least one ruptured cyst a month because during a normal menstrual cycle, the ovaries produce a cyst that intentionally ruptures to release an egg, allowing the woman to become pregnant. When the cyst ruptures, fluid is released into the pelvis in a process called ovulation. If the egg that was released is fertilized by sperm, a pregnancy occurs. If not, a period occurs. 

While the vast majority of ovarian cysts are benign (non-cancerous) and harmless, if you have abnormal pains or discomfort for an extended period of time, you should look out for these signs: 

Irregular or delayed periods

Periods can be complicated and irregularities can occur for a number of reasons (check out our article on the causes of irregular periods). Ovarian cysts can be yet another factor that complicates periods further and can add pain and discomfort. Some months, the cyst that forms is larger and releases more fluid, causing immense pain while other months the cyst is smaller, releasing less fluid and causing slight discomfort. 

Sharp pain around your pelvic region

While mild to moderate pain may come with your period, if you experience random, excruciating pains outside of your menstrual cycle, it may indicate complicated cysts. You will most likely feel this pain in your lower pelvic region where your ovaries are located. Look out for a pain that stays in one specific area and stays even after your period goes away. 

Sex is painful

If you find yourself experiencing pain during sex when that has not normally been the case, you should make an appointment with your OBGYN. Enlarged cysts can make sex incredibly uncomfortable and even painful. 

You constantly feel the urge to go to the bathroom

If you constantly feel like you need to use the bathroom, it may be that a large ovarian cyst is pushing on your bladder and applying constant pressure to that organ. An easy way to detect if this is the case for you is to monitor how many times you are using the bathroom throughout the day and note what you’re doing on each trip. If you often get to the bathroom and find you don’t have the urge to urinate, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor. 

You feel hormonal

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a condition where women have several small cysts on their ovaries that affect their hormones and can cause irregular periods, sudden weight gain, and acne. Because there are so many cysts on such a small space, it can cause an imbalance in estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone, which triggers the above-mentioned symptoms. The only way to diagnose PCOS is by having a doctor run a blood test or conduct an ultrasound exam. 

How can I prevent and treat ovarian cysts?

Unfortunately, there are no preventative measures a woman can take to keep ovarian cysts from forming. They occur naturally as part of the menstrual cycle or on their own. However, if you feel any of the aforementioned symptoms: vomiting, heavy bleeding, or excruciating pain, there may be complications and you should consult your OBGYN. He or she will conduct a pelvic ultrasound to diagnose enlarged ovarian cysts and then conduct a follow-up ultrasound three to four months later during a period. Enlarged cysts typically disappear within that time. 

Some cysts will require surgical removal but in the majority of cases, cysts are nothing to worry about.

Everything You Need to Know About Periods

Everything You Need to Know About Periods

A period, also known as menstruation or a menstrual cycle, occurs when the lining of a female’s uterus breaks down and leaves the body, usually every month. The lining is made up of blood, tissue, and nutrients – the development of which is the body’s preparation for pregnancy. If pregnancy does not occur, meaning the woman’s egg is not fertilized by a sperm, hormones tell the body to shed the lining that’s been built over the last 28 days (on average), resulting in a period that varies in length from one woman to the next.

When do periods begin and end?

Periods start during puberty, which is when a girl’s body begins to change, typically between the ages of 8 and 15 years old. It’s important to remember that periods look different for everyone so the side effects, ages at which it starts and ends, and how long each menstrual cycle lasts vary from person to person. However, as a rule of thumb, if a girl’s period has not started by the age of 16, she should be evaluated by a physician to assess the cause of the delay.

Periods end when women enter menopause which generally falls between the ages of 45 and 55 years old.

What side effects come along with a period?

Side effects may start up to two weeks before the start of a menstrual cycle. Women may notice a change in the body with symptoms called Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). These can include:

  • Back pain
  • Fatigue
  • Acne and breakouts
  • Headaches
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Bloating
  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia
  • Swollen or tender breasts

As these symptoms recur each month around the same time, they usually start to become predictable and more manageable. When symptoms start to become overwhelming, there are steps you can take to ease them:

  • Limit intake of fat, salt, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. An adjustment in diet can help to ease the side effects of PMS.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Over the counter medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can effectively lessen symptoms.
  • Consider hormonal birth control like the pill.

If you find that any of these premenstrual symptoms are overwhelming to the point that they are impacting your daily life, you should talk to your OBGYN. He or she may be able to find ways to ease the intensity and frequency of your symptoms. 

Should I use pads, tampons, or a menstrual cup?

There is no right or wrong answer here because all three methods allow women to go about their daily lives by collecting the blood that the body releases during a period. It is, however, important to know the basics of each option to make the best decision for you.

Pads are worn outside of the body so they collect the blood after it exits the body. Most pads are disposable after one use while others are made of cloth and meant to be washed after use. The material is highly absorbent to avoid leakage. Many women start off using pads when they first start their periods because they don’t require insertion into the vagina and are easy to use.

Tampons act almost like a plug that’s inserted into the vagina where it absorbs the menstrual blood before it leaves the body. Tampons generally come with an applicator that makes for easy and quick insertion and have a string that makes for easy removal. They are also highly absorbent and disposable after one use (up to 8 hours). Many women prefer tampons because they are small and discreet, they are usually not felt once they’ve been properly inserted into the body, and they allow women to engage in a greater range of activities than pads do, including swimming and other active sports. It is very important to change tampons every 4-8 hours (overnight is also ok) to avoid bacteria buildup which can result in a very rare condition called Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). This rare but serious condition can result from wearing a tampon for longer than 8 hours.

Menstrual cups look like little inverted bells and similarly to tampons, they are worn inside the vagina. Rather than absorbing the blood like both pads and tampons, menstrual cups are made of medical-grade flexible silicone and collect the blood while inside the vagina. They are then emptied, washed, and reinserted into the vagina. Menstrual cups are more environmentally-friendly as they are not thrown out after a single use, which is why many women prefer this method. Women also like menstrual cups because they can be worn for up to 12 hours at a time without the risk of developing Toxic Shock Syndrome.

Can you get pregnant on your period?

You sure can! Although the risk of pregnancy is lower during your period, it is still a good idea to use some form of birth control to avoid unintentional pregnancies. 

What to do if your period comes late

First, do not panic! It is common for periods to not always come 28 days apart on the dot. A typical menstrual cycle falls between 21-34 days, but there are quite a few factors that can affect the regularity of periods including weight gain or loss, stress, diet, medication, excessive exercise, and other lifestyle factors.

If your period does not come within 35 days and you are sexually active, you should take a pregnancy test even if you are on birth control. If a pregnancy test comes back negative or you are not sexually active, you should check in with your doctor who may want to conduct tests to determine the cause of this irregularity. 

 

If you have additional questions, our highly knowledgeable staff has answers. Call us to set up an appointment: 757-455-8833.

How to Protect Yourself If You've Had Unprotected Sex

How to Protect Yourself If You’ve Had Unprotected Sex

Unprotected sex, although typically not planned, can happen. Maybe you missed a day or two taking your birth control pill or you had sex without a condom or barrier of protection. If you or a friend find yourself in a situation like this, the first step would be to call your primary care provider who will help you to find the best solution to reduce your risk of pregnancy. Today, we’ll answer your burning questions about your options after having unprotected sex. 

What are my emergency contraceptive options?

The Morning-After Pill

This is a popular choice after having unprotected sex as it can significantly reduce your risk of pregnancy. It’s a hormone-based medication that can delay ovulation (ovaries releasing eggs which will then be fertilized by a sperm). These are readily available over-the-counter at most pharmacies; you will likely see Plan B which is a popular brand of morning-after pills. There are also more effective pills that may be a better fit for your particular situation but these will most likely require a prescription.

Copper Intrauterine Device (IUD)

The copper IUD is a hormone-free, long-acting reverse contraception. When used as birth control, it can remain effective for up to 12 years but it can also be used as emergency contraception as it prevents your eggs from being implanted in the uterus. If you are interested in having an IUD inserted, give us a call!

How effective are these emergency contraception options?

The copper IUD is the most effective, preventing unplanned pregnancies for 99% of users. If taken within the first 72 hours after having unprotected sex, Plan B is about 75-89% effective but becomes less effective in women who weigh 155 pounds or more. The ‘ella’ morning-after pill can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex and is 85% effective and not dependent on your weight. 

How long after unprotected sex should I use emergency contraception?

The short answer: the sooner, the better. The length of time is completely dependent upon which method you choose but in most cases, emergency contraception is effective if taken within 3 days while ‘ella’ is effective up to 5 days after unprotected sex. The IUD has the longest grace period with effectiveness up to 7 days after sex. But the sooner you take the contraceptive method of choice the better so don’t delay. 

Will I be able to get pregnant later?

There have been no studies that have produced results that morning-after pills or copper IUDs have negative effects on future pregnancies. You can take them as needed, keeping in mind that, aside from the IUD, they should not be used as a replacement for regular birth control. 

Are there side effects?

The side effects that accompany morning-after pills are similar to those of birth control pills and are typically not something to worry too much about. You may experience some of the following side effects:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Spotting between periods
  • Heavier bleeding during your period
  • Cramps
  • Breast tenderness
  • Lightheadedness

These side effects typically go away after a few days but if you experience them consistently after taking emergency contraceptive, speak to your primary care provider. 

Everything You Need to Know About Mammograms

Everything You Need to Know About Mammograms

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast that can be used not only to detect breast cancer in women that are showing no signs or symptoms of the disease but also to check for breast cancer in women after a lump or other sign has been found. There are two different types of mammograms: screening and diagnostic. 

What is the difference between screening and diagnostic mammograms?

A screening mammogram is done as a preventative measure in women who have not displayed any signs or symptoms of breast cancer because the x-ray images allow you to detect tumors that a physical screening may not. 

A diagnostic mammogram is used to check for breast cancer after a lump or other sign of breast cancer has been detected. Just like we mentioned in our Breast Cancer Awareness blog post, there are many other signs of breast cancer besides finding a lump. Some of these signs may include breast pain, thickening of the skin of the breast, nipple discharge, or changes in the size, shape, or appearance of your breasts. These signs can, however, also be related to benign conditions which is why a diagnostic mammogram is important to further evaluate changes that may have been found during a screening mammogram.

Both types of mammograms use the same machine. The major differences between the two are (1) the amount of radiation you will be exposed to is higher in a diagnostic mammogram because more x-ray images are needed to view the breast from multiple angles, and (2) diagnostic mammograms take longer to obtain than screening mammograms. 

What are the benefits of screening mammograms?

Early detection of breast cancer with screening mammography means that treatment can be started earlier, potentially before it can spread. This vastly increases the possibility of overcoming the disease. But we can’t talk about the benefits of screening mammograms without also talking about the risks that can come with them.

What are the potential hazards of mammograms?

Radiation exposure

Mammograms require radiation and, although it is in very small doses and results in low exposure, repeated x-rays have the potential to cause cancer. The benefits of mammography do almost always outweigh the potential harm from radiation exposure, however, you should speak with your health care provider about the need for continued x-rays. You should also be sure to disclose your potential of being pregnant with your health care provider and x-ray technician as radiation can be extremely harmful to a growing fetus.

False-positive results

A false-positive is when a radiologist sees an abnormality that could be a positive on an x-ray picture but there is no cancer present in reality. All mammograms that do find abnormalities should be followed up with additional testing to determine whether or not cancer is truly present. 

False-positive results are most common among younger women, women with dense breasts, women with a family history of breast cancer, women who have had previous breast biopsies, and women who are taking estrogen. 

False-positive mammograms can lead to anxiety and emotional and physical distress and the additional testing required to determine the presence or absence of cancer can be costly, time-consuming, and physically uncomfortable.

False-negative results

A negative result in cancer screening means no abnormality is present. A false-negative result gives the impression that the mammogram is normal despite the fact that breast cancer is present. This occurs most frequently among women who have high breast density and younger women because as women grow older, their breasts become more fatty which makes false-negative results less likely. 

A false-negative result can give a false sense of security and can delay treatment. 

I have breast implants. What can I do about screening mammograms?

While implants can hide some breast tissue and therefore make it difficult for a radiologist to detect an abnormality in the mammogram images, women with breast implants should still get regular mammograms. If you have gotten implants as a result of a mastectomy, ask your doctor whether or not they recommend a mammogram of the reconstructed breast. 

In either case, it is important that you let the mammography facility know that you have breast implants when you are scheduling your mammogram. This will let them know to take the necessary precautions to make sure that as much breast tissue can be seen on the mammogram as possible.

How to perform a breast self-exam

How to Perform a Breast Self-Exam

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, “Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam routine is very important.” As October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, we are discussing how to do a breast self-exam and why they are an important part of your normal routine. 

The importance of breast self-exams

Regular breast self-exams allow you to notice abnormalities or changes in your breasts that you need to discuss with your gynecologist. Breast self-exams are not, however, a substitute for a breast exam by your doctor or a screening mammogram. Gaining familiarity with the normal look and feel of your breasts can supplement breast cancer screening but it can’t replace it. This will increase the odds of early detection. 

How to perform a breast self-exam

While we will guide you through the techniques to use when performing a breast self-exam, you may find it helpful to ask your gynecologist for a demonstration. 

Choose a time in your menstrual cycle when your breasts are less tender and swollen. Your hormone levels fluctuate throughout the month but are especially high during your menstrual cycle which causes changes in breast tissue. The best time to perform a breast self-exam is usually the week after your menstrual cycle ends and you should try to do a breast self-exam at about the same time each month. 

Visual Examination

Start your breast self-exam by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your hands on your hips. During this inspection, you should do the following: 

  • Facing forward, look for puckering, dimpling, or changes in size, shape, or symmetry.
  • Changes in your nipples. This might include inversion or a change in position.
  • Lift each breast to see if the ridges along the bottom are symmetrical.
  • Raise your hands above your head and look for changes in the contour, swelling, or dimpling. 

Physical Examination

There are two common ways to perform the manual part of the breast exam:

#1: In the shower

We recommend performing the breast self-exam in the shower because the moisture on your skin will allow your fingers to glide smoothly over your breasts. Using the pads of your fingers and circular motions about the size of a quarter, move around your entire breasts from the outside to the center checking the entire breast and armpit area. During this process, you are feeling for any lumps, thickening, or hardened knots. 

#2: Lying down

When you’re lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly across the chest wall, making it thinner and an ideal position to perform your breast self-exam. Choose a bed or other flat surface, lie down flat, and place a pillow under the arch of your back. Once again using the pads of your fingers, use your left hand to make small circular motions around your right breast and your right hand to do the same on your left breast, covering the entire area from top to bottom and side to side – from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen and from your armpit to your cleavage. 

Alternate between applying light, medium, and firm pressure depending on the area: use light pressure for the tissue just beneath the skin, medium pressure for the tissue in the middle of your breasts, and firm pressure for the deep tissue in the back. 

General tips to bear in mind:

  • Use the pads, not the very tips of your middle three fingers, held flat and together to perform the breast self-exam. 
  • Take your time. This entire process may take several minutes but you want to perform a thorough and not rushed examination. 
  • Follow a pattern to ensure that you are examining the entire breast. 

When should you contact your gynecologist?

You should make an appointment with your gynecologist if you notice any of the following during a breast self-exam:

  • Dimpling, puckering, bulges, or ridges on the skin of your breast
  • A change in your nipple such as inversion or a change in position
  • Nipple discharge especially that which is yellow or blood
  • Changes in the way your breasts look or feel, including thickening
  • A hard lump or knot near your underarm
  • Itching, scales, sores, or rashes
  • Redness, warmth, swelling, or pain

While 8 out of 10 times a lump in your breast is not a sign of breast cancer, early detection significantly increases the chance of survival so if you detect any of the above changes, seek professional medical assistance. 

Give us a call at Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care to schedule an appointment: 757-455-8833.

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Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care consists of over 30 OB/GYN facilities and 6 Imaging Centers throughout the Hampton Roads community
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757-455-8833

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Norfolk, Virginia 23502

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