Whatever your age, keep up with screenings for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Evidence shows that regular mammograms for women age 40 and over are the most effective way to detect breast cancer early. Your chances of getting breast cancer increase as you get older.  - Courtesy photo/MultiCare
Evidence shows that regular mammograms for women age 40 and over are the most effective way to detect breast cancer early. Your chances of getting breast cancer increase as you get older.
— image credit: Courtesy photo/MultiCare

By Shelly Donaldson, RN
MultiCare Health System

Here it is, October again. The cool crisp nights and the leaves changing colors, wait a minute ... why everything is pink.

What is this all about? October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and you will see in stores, shopping malls, on our food packaging and on the street that everything has suddenly turned pink.

It is all about saving lives. It is about the fight to find a cure for breast cancer and in doing so helping to find treatments and a cure for other cancers as well. This October I would like to review what the latest recommendations are from the American Cancer Society to help you wade through all the conflicting information in the news and to help you be on track with your breast cancer screenings.

Starting in your 20s: 'Know what is normal'

Breast self-exam is an option for women starting in their 20s. Recent research suggests that breast self exams play a small role in women finding their own breast lumps. The American Cancer Society recommends "know what is normal" for you. This means not only being aware of the lumps and bumps that are normal for you but looking for any skin changes (redness, rash, dimpling or inverted nipples). Knowing what is normal helps you know when something is abnormal. Be sure that you report any changes to your health care provider right away.

In your 20s and 30s

Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam every three years by their health care professional.

A clinical breast exam, done by a health care professional, gives women a chance to speak to their providers about any problems or changes that they have noticed. It is also a good time to ask about breast self-exam techniques and to discuss risk factors that may increase your chance of getting breast cancer.

Age 40 and beyond

Women who are age 40 and older should have a mammogram yearly and continue to do so as long as they are in good health.

Research has confirmed that mammograms offer substantial benefit for women in their 40s and beyond. Mammograms should continue as long as a woman is in good health and age alone should not be a reason to stop having mammograms.

A mammogram has limitations but it is still the best screening tool that we have to find breast cancers early, when they are treatable. Mammograms alone are not enough. Women need to use all the tools (breast self-exam, clinical breast exam, mammograms) in their arsenal, including their biggest and best tool to help maintain good health: personal self-awareness.

To schedule a mammogram in Auburn or Covington, c all 253-792-6220 or toll-free 1-866-268-7223.

Shelly Donaldson, RN, is a MultiCare Nurse Navigator for Breast Health Services at MultiCare Covington Medical Center, with 10 years of oncology nurse experience. Donaldson provides comfort and support in guiding patients and their families along the often difficult pathway of a cancer diagnosis. She also is available for education, training and speaking engagements. Contact her at

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