Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer. Although breast cancer may not be prevented, it often can be survived. Early detection increases the breast cancer survival rate. Women with small, localized breast cancers (where the cancer has not spread beyond the breast) have a 90 percent chance of living more than 10 years after cancer treatment.
Understanding the Risk
The average woman has a one-in-eight chance of having breast cancer during her lifetime. Several factors, however, can increase your risk.
Some of them are
: Your risk doubles if your natural mother or sister has had breast cancer. It is even higher if they developed breast cancer before menopause.
Premalignant cells on biopsy
: Women who have had a previous breast biopsy that was benign but showed certain suspicious cells are at increased risk.
: Two-thirds of all breast cancers occur in women over 50. As you grow older, your risk increases.
Childbirth and menstruation
: Never having children, or giving birth to your first child after age 30, increases your risk of breast cancer. Having your period begin before the age of 12 or starting menopause after the age of 50 may also add to your risk.
: Other factors linked to breast cancer include obesity and a history of ovarian or endometrial cancer. Even so, the most important risk factors are growing older and a personal or family history of breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Screening Tests
There are three key parts to breast cancer screening
breast exams, and
clinical breast exams performed by a medical provider.
Mography should begin at age 50 and be repeated at least every 2 years. For women between the ages of 40 and 49 who do not have special risk factors, the evidence regarding the benefit of mammography with or without clinical breast exams is conflicting. Since Opinions vary widely among medical providers on this issue, it is best for women in this age group to discuss their particular risks with their own medical providers.
. The most effective early detection method available today is mammography—a low-dose X-ray of the breast. Mammograms can detect breast cancers while they are very small, sometimes 2 years earlier than they can be felt by a woman or her medical provider. In the past 25 years, mammograms have improved considerably. The X-rays are much more sensitive, and far less radiation is used.
Mammography, however, is not perfect. In some cases, a lump that you can feel during a breast exam may not appear on a mammogram. The lump would still need to be checked, even if the mammogram is normal. Mammography, like most other tests, can also show abnormal results where there is no cancer. This occurs in about one out of every 100 mammograms.
There is ongoing debate in the medical community over how often a woman have a mammogram and when to begin having them. Between the ages of 40 and 49, all women should have a mammogram at least once every 2 years. A yearly mammogram is recommended for women over the age of 50.
Experts also suggest that women who have not had breast cancer detected may stop mammography screening at age 75.
Clinical breast exam
: Many medical providers do routine breast exams for women of all ages during general physicals or pelvic exams. The provider will check each breast using fingertips to feel for lumps, and look for other suspicious changes—such as dimpled, scaling, or puckered skin or fluid leaking from the nipple. When combined with a mammogram, a breast exam by a medical provider is the best way to detect cancer in its early stages.
: Many women are afraid to examine their breasts because of what they might find. Most breast lumps are not cancerous. Even if a breast lump is cancerous, your best defense is early detection. Breast self-examination (BSE),is easy and takes only about 5 minutes a month. Among women with breast cancer, 34 percent said they first discovered their breast cancer through BSE. BSE is a way to discover any change from what is “normal” for you.
Performing a Breast Self-Exam
Many health professionals strongly recommend that women perform monthly breast self-examinations to increase their chances for early detection if they develop breast cancer. The procedure is actually quite simple and takes only about 5 minutes a month.
The best time to do BSE is 1 week after the start of your period. If you have already passed through menopause, do BSE on the first day of each month. If you’ve had a hysterectomy, consult the doctor to advise you on the best time for you to perform BSE.
It is normal for women’s breasts to feel lumpy, to swell, or to become tender especially around the time of menstruation. By performing BSE each month you will become familiar with the feel, shape, and size of your breasts, making it easier for you to notice changes should they occur.
Here are some things to look for while examining your breasts
New lumps or changes in the size or shape of existing lumps
Change in the shape or contour of your breasts or unusual swelling
Changes in skin color or texture
Dimpling, puckering, crusting, or rash in the skin, especially around the nipple
Any fluid leaking from the nipple.
How to do a breast self-exam
While in the shower, raise your right arm, placing your hand on the back of your head. Starting at the outer edge of the right breast, use the pads of the fingertips of your left hand. Feel for lumps or changes as you firmly move your fingers in small circles, working in a spiral toward the nipple. Check the other side in the same way, and then gently squeeze each nipple to check for any discharge.
After your shower, clasp your hands together and raise your arms above your head with elbows bent. In a mirror, look for changes in shape or contour as well as any skin changes, such as dimpling or rashes.
Still standing before the mirror, lower your arms. Place your hands on your hips, pull your shoulders and elbows forward, and lean slightly toward the mirror. Look again for any changes in shape contour, and for skin changes.
Finally, lying down, place a rolled towel or Pillow under one shoulder and place the hand on that same side over your head. Examine your breast again as you did in the shower, this time your armpit as well. Repeat this on the other breast.
Take immediate care if you find anything that concerns you.