Finding Breast Cancer Early: Develop a Plan with Your Physician

Home-MainImage6Should I start mammograms at age 40 or 50? Do I need to remember that monthly breast self exam? If you’re feeling confused about the rules for breast cancer screenings, you may not be alone.

In the past several years, a number of medical groups have changed guidelines and often publically debated which recommendations women should follow to detect breast cancer. These conflicting opinions have been closely followed by the media. However, one fact that remains clear: detecting breast cancer early offers patients a better chance of survival.

A large study published earlier this month in the The British Medical Journal shows that the overall survival rate among women whose breast cancer involves the lymph nodes is significantly shorter than that of women who have cancer that has not spread to the lymph nodes. In the United States, if breast cancer is detected and treated early, the five-year survival rate for localized cancer is 99 percent.

When Should I Start Mammograms?

The age at which you should start regular mammograms depends on your family health history and specific breast cancer risk factors. We’ve listed general guidelines from the American Cancer Society, but check with your primary care physician to determine when and how often you should receive a screening mammogram.

The current American Cancer Society mammogram guidelines for women at average risk of breast cancer include:

  • Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms if they wish to do so. The risks of screening as well as the potential benefits should be considered.
  • Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
  • Women age 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or have the choice to continue yearly screening.

Women with a personal history of breast cancer, a family history of breast cancer, a genetic mutation known to increase risk of breast cancer (such as BRCA), and women who had radiation therapy to the chest before the age of 30 are at higher risk for breast cancer. These women should discuss screening recommendations with their primary care physician.

Breast Self-Exam

While mammograms can help you to detect cancer before you can feel a lump in many cases, breast self-exams help you become familiar with how your breasts look and feel so you can alert your healthcare professional if there are any changes.

  1. Doctors recommend three steps to monthly breast self-exams. Check both breasts each month feeling for any lump, thickening, or hardened knot.In the Shower – Using the pads of your fingers, move around your entire breast in a circular pattern moving from the outside to the center, checking the entire breast and armpit area.
  2. In Front of a Mirror – Visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead. Look for any changes in the contour, any swelling, or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples. Next, rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Left and right breasts will not exactly match—few women’s breasts do, so look for any dimpling, puckering, or changes, particularly on one side.
  3. Lying Down – While lying down, place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions covering the entire breast area and armpit. Use light, medium, and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for your left breast.
When to See a Doctor

If you find a lump or other changes in your breast, contact your primary care doctor. You should also discuss the best screening guidelines for your individual situation with your physician.

The primary care providers at LeBauer HealthCare are committed to helping women detect breast cancer early. Our team can help you determine the most appropriate breast cancer screening plan for you based on your individual and family health history and breast cancer risk factors. Find a convenient LeBauer location to schedule your appointment today.

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