Lisa Walker is a breast cancer survivor and wants to continue that way. At 39, with an almost 3-year-old son, she was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. Now, four years later, she remains cancer-free.
"I am diligent about catching a recurrence early," said Walker, who lives in Keizer, Ore.
One of the best ways she has found to fight against breast cancer is through breast self exams. A new class at Oregon Health & Science University has helped her learn the most accurate, comprehensive way to check her own breasts.
A certified MammaCare specialist teaches the one-on-one OHSU Cancer Institute Breast Health Education Program's 90-minute private training session. The session teaches women to know the difference between normal breast tissue and suspicious lumps. MammaCare is the nationally recognized standard for teaching breast examination.
"One of the greatest barriers to doing a breast self-exam is that many women do not have the confidence, or knowledge, to tell the difference between normal breast tissue and changes that may require medical attention. This class helps women differentiate between what is normal for them and what a lump might feel like. It will teach them the exam technique that we teach to health professionals. The session teaches women how to examine themselves at three distinct levels of pressure without lifting their fingers from their breast tissue. It's a private tutoring session, done in the privacy of an exam room," said Nancy Prouser, M.S., certified MammaCare specialist.
The exam technique, taught by the Breast Health Education Program, is the result of evidence-based research that reveals breast exams should include proper positioning of the patient, methodical thoroughness, a "vertical-strip" pattern, as opposed to a circular technique, correct finger movements and a comprehensive coverage area. All these components are hallmarks of the OHSU Cancer Institute program.
"The earlier a woman can discover something that is suspicious the faster the concerns can be alleviated. I want to know as much as I possibly can and be diligent about trying to prevent a recurrence. I can eat a mountain of broccoli, limit my alcohol consumption and exercise, but there has to be a little bit more. This class gives you that ability and confidence. It's like brushing your teeth. If you spend only 30 seconds brushing your teeth, that's all the benefit you're going to get. With this breast self-exam method, if you spend 15 minutes once a month, you will reap the benefits. If you do a proper breast exam you may be able to control what happens by finding breast cancer at its earliest possible stage when treatment can be most effective. I am so grateful for this OHSU class. I have a son; I have an obligation to stay healthy as long as I can," Walker said.
Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women aged 20 to 59. It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in all women. In 2003, almost 40,000 women died of breast cancer, according to the Oregon Breast Cancer and Cervical Program.
The cost of the class is $90. There is a sliding scale available for payment. For more information about signing up for the OHSU Breast Health Education Program's private breast self-examination training sessions, contact Nancy Prouser or call 503 494-1233.