Girl Talk: I found a lump in my breast at 11 years old. Why you may need mammograms before 40.

When I was 11, I found a lump in my breast. I was a little scared but more so upset. As a tween, I was irritated that I wasn’t even fully developed, but I was already having issues with my breasts. The doctor said that I have fibrocystic breasts and then gave me the option to have them removed or leave them. I opted to have them removed. When I woke up from the surgery, I found out I had not one, but three lumps- all removed. That began my cautious relationship with my breasts.

Over the years, I have found many more lumps. It’s part of my routine to check my breasts to make sure I’m familiar with how they feel throughout the month. If there are any new developments, I make my healthcare provider aware. After a lump I’ve had for some time looked slightly irregular on a routine ultrasound, I had a biopsy performed. The test came back as a benign, which means it’s not cancerous, but because I have a family history of breast cancer, I now get the luxury of having mammograms before the age of 40.

Here are some facts on breast cancer:

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer found among women living in the United States (first is skin cancer. Want to know some of our skincare recommendations? Read this.)

  • 245,000 cases in women and 2,200 cases in men each year.

  • 41,000 deaths in women and 220 deaths in men each year.

  • The rate of being diagnosed with breast cancer rate has increased for black, Asian and Pacific Islander women.

  • Black women have a higher death rate compared to white women.

  • (CDC, 2018)

Knowing how your breasts feel during all stages of the month is crucial to preventing breast cancer from going unnoticed. Here are some symptoms to watch out for:

  • New lump in your breast or armpit

  • Breast skin thickening

  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk

  • Pain in the breast

  • Dimpling of skin

  • Changes in the nipple area- redness or flaky skin

  • (CDC, 2018)

So how can you get checked if you feel or see something concerning? What should you do at home to ensure you have early detection? You ask great questions. The best way to start is to do self-breast exams at home. In the shower or after lotioning up yields better results because the skin is easier to maneuver. Feel all around the breast, rolling your fingertips in a circular fashion. Having a breast exam with your yearly physical ensures you and your healthcare provider are aware of any changes in your breasts. If you perform the self-breast exams at home, you will be able to tell them about any changes you’ve noticed.

Ultrasounds of the breast are important to have because they can ensure more accurate results. These were performed on me for a few years because of my numerous cysts. A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast and should start for all women at the age of 40, it also is a reliable test to discover breast cancer in most women. A breast MRI is performed alongside a mammogram for high-risk individuals, but cannot be done alone, as it can produce a false positive in diagnosis.

This can all be a little overwhelming, especially if you find a lump in your breast, just know that the key is early detection. As mentioned earlier, I have three breast cancer survivors in my family and I interviewed my aunt about her experience. My aunt Bobbie was diagnosed in her 40’s and she shared her first encounter with breast cancer.

“(I) found it during a self-exam. That’s what they promoted when I was growing up, so I did it every month in the shower. I knew what it was when I found it, but I waited 4 to 8 weeks to track it and see if it changed. After about 8 weeks, it had gotten bigger, so I went to the doctor,” she said.

Though she knew it was probably cancer because of the changes and our shared health history, going to the doctor made it definite after the mammogram. My aunt even performed genetic testing, showcasing that she has the Breast Cancer gene, also known as BCRA, that is associated with breast cancer.

My aunt Bobbie went through 8 weeks of radiation and a long term of chemotherapy every two weeks. Today, my aunt Bobbie can confidently say she is cancer-free!

She still does her self-exams and makes sure to track any growth and bringing it to your healthcare provider's attention if between annual exams. Her words to us?

“It’s important to know what’s normal and not normal for your body. I think they have gotten away from teaching that. I think young black girls need to do it [self-breast exams]. It’s important.”

Do you or a family member need assistance with finding a low cost of free mammograms? Use the links below to find a facility near you.

Knowing your body can save your life. So take some time to reacquaint yourself.