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.
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.
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.
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.
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