From mammograms to self-exams: early detection could help lower the risk of breast cancer

Mammograms and self-breast exams have been shown to change how breast cancer is detected and treated.
Published: Oct. 26, 2022 at 9:29 AM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The Month of October is recognized nationally as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is the 2nd most common cancer among American women, behind skin cancer.

There are different symptoms of breast cancer, and some people have no symptoms at all. Others could have symptoms that could include:

  • Any change in the size or shape of the breast.
  • Pain in any area of the breast.
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk (including blood).
  • A new lump in the breast or underarm.

Jacyn Debaun works as the Executive Director at the Breast Cancer Detection Center (BCDC) in Fairbanks. Debaun said self-breast exams are a good way to recognize any changes in the breast.

“So you are looking definitely for lumps. A lump would be a key change,” said Debaun. “Doing those monthly self-exams make you aware of what your body feels like, looks like, and so any changes would be immediately noticeable.”

She said the mission of BCDC is to spread awareness of the survivability of Breast Cancer. The way they promote survivability is through education and providing mammograms.

Debaun noted when breast cancer is found early, survivability rates could be as high as 99 percent. Additionally, a mammogram can help support a self-exam by taking a better look inside the body.“So a mammogram can find a lump that you wouldn’t be able to find through a self-exam much earlier so that leads to that 99 percent survivability,” she explained.

But when is a good time to schedule a mammogram?

Debaun says it is recommended for women to schedule their first exam at 40 years old. But, it all depends on your body. Other factors could include family history.

“If you have a history of breast cancer, especially with a mother, an aunt, a sister, then you would want to come in 10 years earlier than when they were diagnosed,” she said. “So, say if they were diagnosed at 46, you would actually start at 36. But, again it is always important to talk to your doctor about when they think you should be getting screened.”

Debaun touched on the BRCA gene.

According to the National Cancer Institute, “BRCA1 (BReast CAncer gene 1) and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer gene 2) are genes that produce proteins that help repair damaged DNA.”

The good news she said, “We know now there is the BRCA gene, which can tie into breast cancer and ovarian cancer. “But really, that’s 10 percent, and so we know about 90 percent of breast cancer is not gene-related,” she said.

Debaun said with it being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a great way to bring awareness to breast cancer is to remind a friend, or family member to get checked. Don’t forget self-breast exams, and don’t wait to schedule your yearly mammogram.

The “cost” of not receiving a mammogram can be high, this is why BCDC has programs in place regardless of your ability to pay. The facility offers a mammo-assist program, that is funded through events, donations, and money generated from patients to have health insurance or pay out of pocket.

“So what people might not know is, every time you choose BCDC for your mammogram and you do have insurance and you do have the ability to pay you are actually giving back to our community to all Alaskans who may not have that ability and making mammograms affordable or possibly free for them,” said Debaun.

She also said BCDC works with native health consortiums in our “Mobile Program,” to help cover those costs for those in rural villages. The Mobile Mammography Truck serves patients in 21 Alaskan communities from March through October.

She also said a group called “Ladies First” can also help assist with payments. She said this state program helps women with breast and cervical care. Visit Alaska’s Ladies First Program website for more information.

As a breast cancer survivor herself, Debaun said even though cancer was considered “bad” in her life, there was good to come from it in the form of connecting with others. “As a breast cancer survivor I am so blessed to work here at BCDC,” she said thoughtfully.

“I get to use my experience to connect with other survivors and with people whose family members had recently been diagnosed. Just the mission of BCDC is just near and dear to my heart,” said Debaun. “We don’t want to lose anyone else from breast cancer, It’s survivable if we can catch it early. So I can’t say it enough, do your monthly self-exams, schedule your yearly mammogram, and let’s find those breast cancers early so that way they are treatable and survivable.”

More information on the Breast Cancer Detection Center and its services can be found on their website: