Oct. 12, 2018
Breast cancer is sometimes found after symptoms appear. But many women with breast cancer have no symptoms. This is why regular breast cancer screenings are so important.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), breast cancer is the second most frequent cause of cancer death among American women. Only lung cancer causes more deaths.
Although a significant number of breast cancers are discovered by patients, the majority of those with breast cancer are diagnosed after a screening.
A screening checks the body for cancer before symptoms are present. Detecting cancer early can help avoid a total mastectomy (removal of the entire breast) and chemotherapy, which is required at later stages of the disease.
Mammography is the best form of early detection and can find lumps up to two years before they can be felt, the ACS states.
Most medical organizations recommend that women with an average risk of developing breast cancer begin mammography screening at age 50. Testing should occur annually or every other year thereafter. For women age 40-49, the decision to have a mammogram is left to the patient and her healthcare provider.
For women with a higher risk of developing breast cancer, mammography may start at an earlier age. Higher risk patients include those who have a personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer, a known genetic predisposition for cancer, or other factors. They should consult their primary care provider to learn when to begin mammography screening.
According to the ACS, research has not proven that regular physical breast exams help to detect breast cancer. This applies to self-exams and clinical breast exams (those done by a health professional).
Therefore, the ACS no longer recommends a clinical breast exam or a breast self-exam as a screening method for American women. However, women should be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel, and report any changes to their healthcare provider.
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