Breast Cancer Screening
A screening mammogram is an X-ray of the breast used to detect breast changes in women who have no signs or symptoms of breast cancer.
Women age 40 or older: Annually or as recommended by your doctor
Women under age 40 who are at higher-than-average risk of breast cancer: Ask your doctor if a mammogram is recommended and how often.
Annual clinical breast exam: Good breast cancer prevention also includes an annual clinical breast exam by your doctor beginning at age 40.
Reducing Your Risk of Breast Cancer
Although breast cancer rates have decreased greatly over the past two decades, breast cancer is still a major health concern. One in eight women in the United States (a little over 12 percent) will develop invasive breast cancer during her lifetime. However, there are simple steps you can take to reduce your risk.
Establish Healthy Habits
- Maintain a healthy weight. Carrying extra fat tissue after menopause can boost your estrogen levels, increasing your breast cancer risk.
- Exercise often. Exercise can lower your chance of getting breast cancer, especially after menopause. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity—or 75 minutes of vigorous activity—weekly.
- Diet also plays a role in risk reduction. Cutting back on red meat is a good idea—opt for other protein sources like poultry, legumes, fish and nuts—and watch your alcohol intake.
Keep Current on Your Screenings
- Mammograms are the mainstay of breast cancer screening. They don’t reduce your risk of getting breast cancer, but they do reduce your risk of dying from it.
- The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends biennial screening mammograms starting at age 50. Women in their 40s should talk to their doctor about whether mammography makes sense for them.
- You should also do a monthly breast self-exam. You know your own body best and will tend to notice any changes; alert your doctor if you feel anything of concern.
Heed Your Hormones
- Long-term estrogen therapy hikes your risk of breast cancer—especially after age 50—so try to delay or reduce your use of hormone therapy. Younger women taking birth control pills, which also contain estrogen, aren’t at significant risk.
- We know much more about breast cancer than in generations past, so you—in partnership with your doctor—have the power to reduce your risk and spot trouble early, when it’s easiest to treat.
Breast Cancer Myth Busters
Find out what’s true—and what’s not
There’s plenty of information about breast cancer floating around, but some myths have been repeated so many times they’ve gained credibility. To take good care of your breast health, you need to know the facts. The following are some common breast cancer myths that have gained steam but simply aren’t backed by evidence-based science.
When checking yourself for signs of breast cancer, simply examine your breasts for lumps.
While you should certainly be on the lookout for breast lumps, they aren’t all you need to check for. You should also schedule an appointment with your doctor if you notice thickening breast tissue, continuous breast pain, puckering of the breast skin or nipple changes.
If you find a lump in your breast, you most likely have cancer.
If you find a lump in your breast, you most likely don’t have cancer. Breast lumps are common, and eight out of 10 are not cancerous. Most are just fluidfilled cysts or noncancerous growths (some are called fibroadenoma). Still, if you notice a lump in your breast, it’s important to have it checked out by a doctor so you can get a proper diagnosis.
If a lump is cancerous, it will feel hard and won’t move around.
Some cancerous lumps are smooth and will move if you slide your hand over them. Only your doctor can determine whether a breast lump is cancer.
A mammogram can determine whether you have breast cancer.
Mammography is an important tool for detecting breast cancer early. But while a mammogram can reveal a suspicious mass, it can’t tell your doctor whether that mass is cancerous. To do that, your doctor must do a biopsy, in which tissue is removed and examined under a microscope.
If you have had a mastectomy, you can’t get breast cancer.
A mastectomy, which removes nearly all of your breast tissue, dramatically reduces your chances of getting breast cancer in the future. But there is a small chance that some cancer cells might have remained on your chest wall. So, even women who have had a mastectomy should continue with regular breast exams.
Breast cancer mainly affects women who have a family history of the disease.
About 90 percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease.
Sources: cancer.org, nationalbreastcancer.org, mayoclinic.com, webmd.com, breastcancercampaign.org, hopkinsmedicine.org