Breast Cancer Screening
Breast cancer affects a significant number of women each year. It is the second-most-common cancer, and the second-leading cause of cancer death, among women. Most breast cancers are slow-growing, but there are types that are aggressive, which is why early detection is essential. Regular screenings are the best way to detect breast cancer in its early stages. The most common screenings are mammograms and doctor-performed clinical breast exams.
Official recommendations are that, starting at 29 years old, a woman should have a clinical breast exam every one to three years. At 50 years of age, a woman should have a biennial mammogram at the very least. At 40 years, women should at least start having discussions about their breast cancer risk. At our office, we perform clinical breast exams routinely with the pap smear. Depending on risk, we start the discussion at age 35 years and consider the type of screen and frequency on a case by case basis. As of current, routine breast cancer screenings are no longer recommmended for women 75 years or older with average risk. A woman should check with her doctor to determine her best course of action.
It may also be helpful for a woman to examine her breasts once a month, usually about a week after her menstrual period, to identify any changes or abnormalities such as a lump, swelling, irritation or pain. Breast self-exams are not officially recommended as a screening tool for breast cancer because their success in detecting early-stage cancers and increasing the survival rate have not been proven. But, by becoming familiar with the way her breasts normally look and feel, a woman may recognize changes indicating an abnormality.