By Ellen M. Wapner, R.T.

Here we are again, October with all its shades of yellow, reds, fading greens and pink. Any breast care provider, imager and most especially survivors of breast cancer and their supporters know what I’m talking about. Our awareness of breast cancer is with us all year long, but takes on a strong presence in October.

This is a good opportunity to talk about breast self-examination. Most of us recognize the importance of well health and balance in our lives; we do things every day that contribute to our healthy lives: floss-brush-rinse, bathe our bodies, clean our homes, and take care of our families and neighbors. On an annual basis we have a check-up with our physicians and most likely will receive an order for a screening mammogram. The annual radiographic imaging of breast tissue is a very important tool to help maintain our health, but it should not be the only tool. Women who are invested in their well health know that with their annual visit to their health practitioner includes a general health check, clinical breast exam and a moment to touch base with all well health screenings. It may also include blood work for cholesterol, honest conversation about good weight goals, and a discussion to promote optimal health. Monthly breast self-examination should be a strong part of our commitment to well health. Here at the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital Breast Imaging Department, we have two certified MammaCare Specialists who are trained to teach the MammaCare Method of breast self-examination. Brattleboro Memorial Hospital offers this service free of charge to anyone who may be interested in learning how to best identify breast lumps. This service is made possible through a grant provided by The Fanny Holt Ames & Edna Louise Holt Fund.

l. to r. - Ellen Wapner and Susan Gautot
l. to r. – Ellen Wapner and Susan Gautot

The MammaCare Method uses a Personal Learning System with Palpation Pacing with tactually accurate breast models, so patients learn what to feel in their breast and to differentiate normal tissue patterns in the breast from areas of change. With good breast exam skills about half of all cancers are first discovered by fingers. Breast self-examination also helps the patient to distinguish between the feel of normal breast tissue and normal/abnormal changes in the breast. A breast lump or change must be checked by a health care professional; good breast self-examination allows a patient to locate lumps with the confidence of knowing herself. Detection of early breast cancer and treatment allow many women to continue on with their everyday lives with little or no interruption.

As professional mammographers, we feel that teaching good breast self-examination skills is a logical step for us to take in caring for our community and encouraging women to check their breasts on a regular basis. In particular, outreach to younger women is important. The MammaCare skills allow young women to know their breast tissue long before they start mammogram imaging for breast cancer screening. Teaching the MammaCare method lets all women be more comfortable with breast self-examination. It allows the patient and health care professional together to have informed and more accurate well health care. As women are taught the palpation method of MammaCare, they can perform a proficient self-exam that covers the entire area of breast tissue and learn to distinguish between the feel of their normal breast tissue and changes that occurs with breast tissue. These skills help women who practice the MammaCare Method of breast self-examination find breast lumps at a small size. It is known that survival rate increases when the size of the tumor is small. Early detection is key.

The BMH Breast Imaging Center currently has one hour, one-on-one appointment times to teach this very effective method of breast self-examination. Ellen Wapner, RT(M), CMS and Susan Gautot, RT(M), CMS, are available and we look forward to presenting a wonderful opportunity to all women of our community.

Ellen Wapner RT (R., M., Q.M.) is a Mammography Technologist at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. She can be reached by calling 802-251-3606.

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