News | Published October 1, 2018 | Written by Angelique Cygan, RN, oncology breast navigator at Mount Nittany Medical Center

Taking a proactive approach to breast health

Angelique Cygan, RN, oncology breast navigator, Mount Nittany Medical Center

Preventive measures in the world of medicine can play a key role in overall wellness. Often simple lifestyle changes go a long way in preventing illness and disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, studies have shown that the routine changes outlined below can decrease the risk of developing breast cancer, even in high-risk individuals.

  • Limiting alcohol. The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer. The general recommendation — based on research on the effect of alcohol on breast cancer risk — is to limit yourself to less than 1 drink per day as even small amounts increase risk.
  • Stopping smoking. Accumulating evidence suggests a link between smoking and breast cancer risk, particularly in premenopausal women. In addition, not smoking is one of the best things you can do for your complete health.
  • Controlling your weight. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of breast cancer. This is especially true if obesity occurs later in life, particularly after menopause.
  • Being physically active. Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, which, in turn, helps prevent breast cancer. For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly, plus strength training at least twice a week.
  • Yearly mammograms. Arguably the most important preventive measure in overall breast health is the practice of regular mammograms to screen for breast cancer. The Breast Care Center, located at Mount Nittany Health - Park Avenue, offers digital mammograms, including tomosynthesis, also referred to as “3D” digital mammography, as well as a number of other services for women. Physicians at the Breast Care Center can also perform ultrasounds and needle localizations as well as ultrasound-guided, stereotactic localization and cyst aspiration ultrasounds.

Mammograms can detect a lump long before it can be felt, which is why it's important for women age 40 and over to have this annual test regularly. Patients with a history of breast cancer in their family should have the test performed earlier under the direction of their primary care physician. Even with this information, many women neglect this vital step. Some of the most common reasons that women give for neglecting their screenings include:

  • I’m just too busy. Many women are so busy with work and caring for their families that they don’t take time to pursue their own health needs. An annual physical, with a clinical breast exam is an important time to schedule cancer and other disease screenings. This is also the time to discuss your family history, as some women younger than 40 should begin screening mammography.
  • I heard that mammograms are painful. This is a common misconception. While many women describe the experience as uncomfortable, less than 10 percent say they find it painful. The compression time lasts only about 5-7 seconds. Technologists are very sensitive to our patients. If you're worried about having pain from the mammogram, please tell your technologist and they will only apply as much compression as they need for the picture. You may wish to take some acetaminophen or ibuprofen before the exam. Scheduling your mammogram at the time just after your menstrual cycle may also reduce discomfort.
  • I don’t want to know if I have breast cancer. Mammograms can often show a lump long before you would be able to feel it. This allows cancer to be identified at the earliest possible stage, increasing the chances of successful treatment. Sadly, some people still believe that cancer equals a death sentence. In fact, far more women are long-term survivors than those that are lost to the multiple tumor types of breast cancer.
  • I don’t have the money to pay for a mammogram. We are so fortunate in our area to have multiple programs to pay for screening and diagnostic mammograms, ensuring that virtually all women without insurance, or with limited insurance will be covered. For information about the no-cost Adagio Health Mammogram Voucher Program for Centre County residents, please call toll-free at 1.888.MVP.0505 (687.0505). For more information on no-cost mammograms for all Pennsylvania residents, call the HealthyWoman Program at 800.654.5984.

For additional information on mammogram programs and overall breast health, contact Angelique Cygan, RN, oncology breast navigator for the cancer program at Mount Nittany Medical Center. Angelique can be reached at 814.231.6870 or