October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and there are many ways to honor the cause. Over 200,000 U.S. women suffer from this disease per year, and this month, we gather for their benefit. The goal for the month is to raise awareness and funding for the cause and to encourage early detection habits. Additionally, the commemoration aims to honor the survivors and those who are still suffering from the disease. Medical Assistants can play a special role in this goal by assisting in OB GYN offices and informing patients about their risks and options concerning breast cancer. As patient liaisons, here are just some of the ways that medical assistants and other healthcare professionals can help promote breast cancer awareness.
Promote Early Detection Methods
Early detection is the best method of prevention. If you can catch the disease early on, the chances of a full recovery are exponentially higher than catching it after it has progressed and spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body. There are several different methods of early detection that all women should be familiar with:
The simplest form of early detection is a breast self-exam. A self-exam should be performed about once a month after each menstrual cycle, and should begin as soon as a woman begins menstruating. If you are pregnant or have an especially irregular menstruation, choose a set day each month to perform this exam.
It is important to perform this exam in a variety of different positions to fully encompass the scope of your body. While in front of a mirror and laying down, examine your breast tissue with your fingers to feel for any lumps or irregularities. Additionally, make sure you’re checking your breasts for any visual changes in color, texture, or size. Make sure that the skin is clean and dry when doing this to ensure maximum detection capabilities. For more information about how to perform an effective self-examination, check out this complete guide.
2. Clinical Breast Exams
Clinical breast exams are similar to self-exams, except a medical professional is checking for any lumps or abnormalities. Typically, gynecologist or primary care physician will conduct these exams with the help of a nurse or medical assistant. These exams are highly recommended once a year for women 18 and up. They are immensely helpful because a trained touch is much more sensitive and can find more subtle irregularities than your own.
3. Screening Mammograms
Regular mammograms are one of the most crucial ways to detect any signs of breast cancer early on before the disease spreads. Starting at age 40, women are strongly encouraged to see their gynecologist for a screening mammogram every 1-2 years. Those with a family history of breast cancer will need to begin sooner and develop an individualized plan with their doctor.
A screening mammogram is essentially an x-ray of the breast tissue to scan for abnormalities and lumps that are too small to be felt. It involves the breast tissue being flattened between two metal or plastic plates to take images of the internal matter. Most women experience minimal levels of discomfort during this process and the radiation levels are so low that the procedure is entirely safe. It’s important to remember that self-exams and clinical exams should not replace mammograms. While feeling for lumps is important, it is not as effective as x-raying, which can detect deeper masses that may be hidden from the surface.
Assist in Diagnostic Testing
If early detection methods find an abnormality, doctors will examine the breast tissue on a more detailed basis with diagnostic testing, such as sonograms, ultrasounds, MRIs, diagnostic mammograms, and biopsies. Medical assistants can help perform these tests and procedures with the proper training to help keep patients safer and healthier.
Start a Fundraiser
One of the best ways to celebrate the month is by fundraising for the cause. Raising money for breast cancer research can help fund potentially life-saving discoveries. As a healthcare professional, you can host a fundraiser at your facility, or encourage your clients to get involved in local events that support the cause. Another popular option is a social media fundraiser with a unique hashtag, creative graphic or t-shirt design and Go Fund Me link for people to donate. Events that raise awareness for the disease and promote early detection methods are the key to encouraging regular exams and screenings.
Increase Awareness this October
As a medical assistant, you get to help your patients live their healthiest lives, and this includes enforcing regular and consistent exams and screenings. Educate your patients by discussing their potential risk factors, prevention tips, and early detection habits with them during their annual visits. Additionally, share online resources and patient information about breast cancer, so that they can stay up to date and informed about this disease. If you want to help make this sort of positive impact on women’s lives and join the breast cancer fight, consider becoming a medical assistant today.