Monday Medical: Breast health must-knows |

Monday Medical: Breast health must-knows

Susan Cunningham/For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of a two-part Q & A on breast health.

Want to know the latest recommendations for breast cancer screening? Or whether wearing deodorant or a bra increases risk of breast cancer?

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Christine Bliven, a breast radiologist at UCHealth Gloria Gossard Breast Care Center in Steamboat Springs, answers must-know questions about breast health.

Q: How often should I be screened?

A: Different organizations have different recommendations, but Bliven and her breast imaging colleagues follow the recommendation from the Society of Breast Imaging and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, which is that women at average risk should start annual mammograms at age 40. “But it can be very confusing for people because there are different recommendations from different organizations out there,” Bliven said.

Q: Should I worry about radiation from a mammogram?

A: Radiation is naturally all around us: the radiation received from a mammogram is similar to what’s received from background radiation over a few months. Being on an airplane or living at altitude also increases radiation exposure.

“We use imaging studies wisely, and the benefits far outweigh the risks,” Bliven said.

Q: How many women develop breast cancer?

A: According to the latest statistics from the American Cancer Society, about one in eight women will develop breast cancer, while only one in 38 dies from breast cancer. “With most breast cancer diagnoses, people are successfully treated and go on with their lives,” Bliven said.

Men can also develop breast cancer, but it’s 100 times more common in white women than men.

Q: Can you prevent breast cancer?

A: “Most of the time, you can’t prevent breast cancer,” Bliven said. “But a few lifestyle changes help lower risk.” Don’t smoke, don’t drink more than one alcoholic beverage a day and maintain a normal body weight.

Q: How do I do a self-exam?

A: All women should do regular self-exams. If you menstruate, avoid doing a self-exam during your period as that can impact how breasts feel. And don’t be surprised if you find your breasts are lumpy, which is common.

“What we ask people to do is notice if there’s a change,” Bliven said. “Accept that there’s a baseline lumpiness and trust that you’ll know if there’s something different.”

Q: Is it bad to have dense breasts?

A: Many states, including Colorado, require that women are notified if their breasts are considered dense, which means they have more glandular tissue than fatty tissue. If you receive that designation, it’s nothing to worry about. “About half the population has dense breasts,” Bliven said. “Having dense breasts is not scary or abnormal, it’s just something to be aware of.”

Q: What if breasts are called fibrocystic?

A: People may be surprised if an imaging study deems their breasts fibrocystic, but as with density, this designation is nothing to worry about. “It can mean the breasts feel lumpy or may refer to things a radiologist sees, such as cysts or benign calcifications,” Bliven said. “It’s a common result after imaging.”

Q: Do mammograms work with implants?

A: Yes. Most breast implants are placed under the pectoralis chest muscle, which does not interfere with mammograms.

“Some people worry we won’t see well, but we do a pretty good job of pushing the implant back and seeing the breast tissue,” Bliven said. “Having implants does mean you need double the amount of pictures for a mammogram.”

Q: Do bras increase risk of breast cancer? How about deodorant or injuries?

A: The simple answer is no. “Wearing a bra does not make a difference in breast cancer risk,” Bliven said. “Neither do deodorant or injuries. Sometimes breast cancer is found because someone gets hurt, and the cancer is discovered through an exam, but it’s not from the injury.”

Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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