It is estimated that more than 266,000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer before the end of 2018 – and an early diagnosis will significantly increase their odds of defeating the disease. Breast cancer that’s found early, when it’s small and has not spread, is easier to treat successfully. Getting regular screening tests is the most reliable way to find breast cancer early.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), research has not shown a clear benefit of regular physical breast exams done by a health professional or by yourself. However, women should be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel. When you know what’s normal for you, changes may be more likely to stand out if they do happen. If you notice a change in your breasts or have any nipple discharge, make an appointment with your physician immediately.
Regular mammograms can help find breast cancer at an early stage, when treatment is most successful, states the ACS. A mammogram can find breast changes that could be cancer years before physical symptoms develop. A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast tissue that can detect cancer in its earliest stages. A mammography machine takes x-rays at lower doses than usual x-rays. During the exam, the breast is placed between two mammogram plates and flattened while the machine takes a high-quality picture of the tissue. If any masses or changes are identified in the breast, further tests are done to determine if they are caused by breast cancer or another condition.
A mammogram appointment typically lasts 20 minutes, and the breast compression is done within a matter of seconds. The compression may be slightly uncomfortable, but it is typically not painful. Go to the same mammogram clinic each year to ensure your current mammogram can easily be compared to images from previous years.
Women should consider getting a yearly mammogram beginning at age 40 with all women getting an annual mammogram beginning at age 45.
Knowing Your Risk
Knowledge is power. By assessing your risk, you can determine if you need to take extra precautions to ensure you detect breast cancer early.
According to the ACS, risk factors for breast cancer include:
- Older age. Most invasive breast cancers are found in women age 55 or older.
- Family history. Women whose mother, sister or daughter had breast cancer are at higher risk themselves.
- Women who have mutated forms of some genes have a higher risk for breast cancer.
- History of breast cancer. Women who have had cancer in one breast are more likely to develop cancer in the other breast.
- Caucasian women are more likely than women of other races to develop breast cancer.
- Past radiation treatment. Women who have had radiation therapy to the chest are at higher risk for breast cancer.
- Age of first and last period. Women who started menstruating before age 12, or stopped menstruating after age 55, are at higher risk for breast cancer.
- Past pregnancies. In general, women who have no biological children or did not bear children until after age 30 have a higher risk for breast cancer.
- DES (diethylstilbestrol). Women who were given this drug during pregnancy have a higher risk for breast cancer.
- Medicines with hormones. Birth control pills and hormone therapy after menopause have both been linked to increased breast cancer risk.
- As little as one alcoholic drink a day can raise a woman’s breast cancer risk.
- An inactive lifestyle. Women who get regular exercise are less likely to develop breast cancer.
- Obesity and being overweight. Women who are overweight or obese after menopause are more likely to develop breast cancer than those who maintain a healthy weight.
Baptist Health partners with thousands of women every year in their fight against breast cancer, and we know an early diagnosis often plays an important role in defeating the disease. If you’re due for a breast exam, request an appointment with one of our women’s physicians, or if you’re over 40, request a mammography appointment.