Published on September 21, 2022

Preparing for a healthy future

It’s nearly October, which means Breast Cancer Awareness Month is right around the corner. Making now the optimum time to consider scheduling exams able to detect breast cancer earlier when it is easier to treat. 

Carolyn OlsonEssentia Health recommends having a clinical breast exam performed by your primary care provider or gynecologist every year. Between these appointments, physicians recommend self-breast awareness, which is knowing how your breasts normally look and feel. 

According to the American Cancer Society, on average, early detection of Stage 1 breast cancer has a 99% five-year relative survival rate.

“People who get annual screening mammograms will have earlier detection and a better prognosis,” said Carolyn Olson, an advanced practice registered nurse in Essentia Health’s breast health program. “This means less-aggressive surgery, less likely to need chemotherapy and a better survival rate.”

Olson said you should see a provider if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Changes in the size or shape of the breast.
  • A painful or itchy nipple.
  • Discharge from the nipple without squeezing.
  • Swelling, redness, warmth or darkening of the breast.
  • Lumps or thickening in the breast or underarm area.
  • A change in skin texture.
  • A changing of the nipple position or shape.
  • New pain in one spot that does not go away.

 “These can all be easily self-observed, and while it doesn’t mean you have breast cancer, it certainly is something we want to look at and rule out that possibility,” said Olson.

Essentia recommends women get a screening mammogram every year once they turn 40. These can be scheduled with your primary care provider. Essentia offers digital 2-D and 3-D mammograms. Additionally, ultrasounds and breast MRIs can be used if further imaging is needed.

“We will do our best to meet their needs and ensure they feel comfortable whether we are providing a clinical breast exam, mammogram or breast biopsy,” said Olson.

Essentia also offers a High-Risk Breast Cancer Program. This focuses on identifying and helping patients understand their risk for developing breast cancer. Patients will undergo a thorough assessment and evaluation while partnering with a breast health specialist to formulate a personalized plan of care.

Those who should consider this high-risk program are women who have any of the following:

  • Several close relatives on the same side of the family with breast cancer.
  • A mother, sister or daughter with breast cancer at age 50 or younger.
  • Two first-degree relatives with breast cancer at any age.
  • A close male relative with breast cancer.

“The average woman has a 12-13% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer, and a woman found to be at high risk will have a greater than 20% lifetime risk,” Olson said. “There are a number of factors that can contribute to being high-risk. If you have questions, we are here to help and walk you through your risk factors to determine if this program is right for you.”

Essentia also offers genetic testing and counseling to work with patients whose families have a history of cancer, genetic diseases or medical disorders and who are concerned about the risk of developing medical conditions or passing them on to their children.

Genetic counselors work with patients and their families to discuss risk factors and test for genetic diseases and disorders that may be passed down through a person’s bloodline.

You should consider a genetic counselor if you have a close relative with hereditary cancers such as breast, ovarian or colon cancer.

“Essentia is well-equipped to handle patients’ concerns from a variety of different resources,” said Olson. “We want to make it easy for the patient to come in, determine their risks, if any, and establish the best possible path forward to ensure a healthy outcome.”

Patients can lower their breast cancer risk by doing some of the following:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Limit alcohol intake.
  • Limit hormone use.
  • Breastfeed if possible.
  • Don’t smoke.

Essentia is known for its high-quality, evidence-based breast care. Our breast health programs in Brainerd, Duluth and Fargo are accredited by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers. This accreditation is granted to programs that are committed to providing the best possible care to patients with breast diseases.

 You can make an appointment by calling (844) 663-1068, or schedule a virtual visit online at essentiahealth.org/services/breast-health.