Breast Cancer Prevention and Screening
- The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends women at average breast cancer risk begin screening for breast cancer at age 40. Women with the BRCA gene mutation, who have a family history of cancer or have dense breasts, are at higher risk and should talk with their doctor about when to screen which may be younger than 40.
- SurvivorNet experts recommend performing a monthly breast self-exam to look for anything unusual with your breasts because it can help catch breast cancer between regularly scheduled mammograms.
- Breast density is determined through mammograms. However, women with dense breasts are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer because dense breast tissue can mask potential cancer during screening.
- 3D mammograms, breast ultrasound, breast MRI, and molecular breast imaging are options for women with dense breasts for a more precise screening. It is important to ask your doctor about your breast density and cancer risk.
“Real Housewives of Cheshire” star Christine McGuinness, 35, is using her own breast cancer scare to raise much-needed awareness for women to check themselves in the shower. Mammograms are the mainstay approach to breast cancer screening, but knowing when to do it depends on your individual cancer risk. McGuinness has a family history of this type of cancer, which elevates her risk and impacts when she should begin screening.
“Before I had children, I found a lump one day,” McGuinness told U.K.-based news outlet “The Daily Star.”Read More
Fortunately, her scans revealed she did not have cancer, but her cautionary mindset is what she wants other women to have.
“If you see any changes or you are unsure, you’ve got to go and get it checked out,” McGuinness said.
She now conducts regular self-breast exams while in the shower, which is encouraged by many breast oncologists. Hence, women know what their breasts usually feel like and will be able to detect something unusual better.
Helping You Understand Breast Cancer Screening
- Earlier Mammograms for Black Women May Reduce Breast Cancer Mortality Disparity Rates By 57%; How to Screen for this Disease
- The Mammogram Debate: Should Women Start Breast Cancer Screening at 30?
- Mammograms Are Still the Best Tool for Detecting Breast Cancer — A Warning About Thermography
- How to Avoid False Positive Cancer Results in Women With Dense Breasts: Ultrasounds Used in Addition To Mammograms
When to Screen for Breast Cancer
The medical community has a broad consensus that women have annual mammograms between the ages of 45 and 54. However, an independent panel of experts called the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is saying that women should start getting mammograms every other year at the age of 40, suggesting that this lowered the age for breast cancer screening could save 19% more lives. For women aged 55 and older, the American Cancer Society recommends getting a mammogram every other year. However, women in this age group who want added reassurance can still get annual mammograms.
Women with a strong family history of breast cancer, have dense breasts, have a genetic mutation known to increase the risk of breast cancer, such as a BRCA gene mutation, or a medical history, including chest radiation therapy before age 30, are considered at higher risk for breast cancer.
WATCH: Understanding the BRCA gene mutation.
Experiencing menstruation at an early age (before 12) or having dense breasts can also put you into a high-risk category. If you are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer, you should begin screening earlier.
Breast density is determined through mammograms. However, women with dense breasts are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer because dense breast tissue can mask potential cancer during screening. 3D mammograms, breast ultrasound, breast MRI, and molecular breast imaging are options for women with dense breasts for a more precise screening. It is important to ask your doctor about your breast density and cancer risk.
Family History & Breast Cancer Risk
Although breast cancer can happen to anyone, certain factors can increase a person’s risk of getting the disease. The known risk factors for breast cancer include:
- Older age
- Having a gene mutation such as the BRCA1 or BRCA2
- Added exposure to estrogen
- Having children after the age of 30
- Exposure to radiation early in life
- Family history of the disease
Different types of genetic testing can help people with a family history of cancer better ascertain their cancer risks. Your doctor will discuss your family history of cancer with you in the context of your type of tumor and your age at diagnosis. Hereditary genetic testing is usually done with a blood or saliva test.
WATCH: Understanding genetic testing for breast cancer.
“We encourage only those with a family history to get [genetic testing],” Dr. Ginsburg tells Survivornet.
“I would say that if you have anyone in your family diagnosed with a rare cancer. Or if you have a strong family history of one or two kinds of cancer, particularly breast and ovarian, but also colon, rectal, uterine, and ovarian cancer, that goes together in another cancer syndrome called the Lynch Syndrome,” Dr. Ginsburg adds.
The second test involves the genetic sequencing of your tumor if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer by this point. These genetic changes can be inherited, but most arise during a person’s lifetime. This process usually involves examining a biopsy or surgical specimen of your tumor. This testing can lead to decisions on drugs that might work against your cancer.
Breast Cancer Symptoms & Self-Exams
Women are encouraged to do regular self-exams to become familiar with how their breasts feel normally so something like a lump forming can be easily detected. A self-exam includes pressing your fingertips along your breast in a circular motion.
If you feel something abnormal, such as a lump or discharge from the nipple, you should contact your doctor for further examination.
Below are common symptoms to look out for:
- New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit)
- Any change in the size or the shape of the breast
- Swelling on all or part of the breast
- Skin dimpling or peeling
- Breast or nipple pain
- Nipple turning inward
- Redness or scaliness of breast or nipple skin
- Nipple discharge (not associated with breastfeeding)