Screenings and self-exams key to early detection

First the good news: Breast cancer cases and deaths have been going down, according to the American Cancer Society1. Most doctors believe the decrease is a result of early detection and better treatments.

It’s no surprise that screenings play a big role in breast cancer survival. The earlier you detect breast cancer — while the tumor is small and hasn’t had a chance to spread — the better your chances for successful treatment. That’s why it pays to keep track of the screenings you can have. Knowing the warning signs of breast cancer can lead to early detection which improves your chances of a successful treatment.

Take charge of your own breast health

Examine your breasts yourself, starting in your 20s. Even though self-exams don’t play a big role in cancer detection, there are big benefits. For one, you'll become familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel. That way, you’ll be able to notice a change and be able to report it to your doctor early on.

You don’t even have to do these self-exams once a month to reap the benefits2. Ask your healthcare practitioner to show you the proper method for a breast self-exam.

Look out for these symptoms

If you spot any of these signs, call your doctor. Don’t panic, though. There are other conditions that may cause these symptoms. But for your peace of mind and your health, get your doctor to check out these symptoms as soon as possible.

  • Your breast feels different: You may notice a lump or thickening in your breast or armpit.
  • Your breast looks different: One of your breasts may look like an orange peel. Or you notice a change in its size or shape.
  • You see a change in your nipple: It may be red, sore, itchy, or scaly. Or your nipple leaks a fluid other than breast milk, like blood.
  • You notice swelling or pain in any part of your breast or nipples.

Keep on top of your medical screenings

A mammogram is the best screening test, for women over 40, say experts. So talk to your doctor about scheduling one soon.

There are two medical screenings recommended by health organizations like the CDC and American Cancer Society (ACS): clinical breast exams and mammograms.

You’ll usually get a clinical breast exam at your annual checkup. The doctor or nurse will examine your breasts to detect any visible changes or lumps. If you’re in your 20s or 30s, the ACS recommends getting one at least every three years. If you’re 40 or older, you’ll need one every year. However, your healthcare practitioner will advise you on the best screening option for you.

The screening test that’s been proven to be most effective is the mammogram, according to the CDC3. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that allows doctors to spot any changes or lumps before you can feel them. The whole procedure lasts about 20 minutes. It can be uncomfortable, since each of your breasts has to be squished between two plates before a nurse takes an X-ray.

When is the best time to start getting mammograms? The CDC recommends them every other year for women between 50 and 74. If you are between 40 and 49, talk to your health provider. Your doctor may recommend you have a mammogram, especially if you have other risk factors.

This information is for educational purposes only and does not replace treatment or advice from a healthcare professional. If you have questions, please talk with your doctor.

A mammogram is the best screening test, for women over 40, say experts. So talk to your doctor about scheduling one soon.


  1. (link opens in new window)
  2. (link opens in new window)
  3. (link opens in new window)

Find savvy caregiving strategies now

If you’re a caregiver, you’ll find assistance here.

Visit caregiver resources

Lose weight and improve your overall health

Maintaining a healthy weight reduces your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and arthritis.

Read about obesity and illness

Connect with your M.D. for better care

Research shows that a personal connection with your doctor boosts the quality of your healthcare.

Read build your patient-M.D. bond