Finding breast cancer early, when it is most treatable, can mean the difference between life and death. That’s why the American Cancer Society has developed guidelines for the early detection of breast cancer. Hope for a world without breast cancer starts with us … and that means knowing and following these guidelines. Finding breast cancer early can save lives.
The American Cancer Society breast cancer screening guidelines are for women at average risk for cancer (unless otherwise specified) and without any specific symptoms.
Yearly mammograms are recommended starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health.
A breast exam by a doctor or nurse should be part of a periodic health exam, about every three years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and older.
Women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any breast change to their doctor without delay. Breast self-exam is an option for women starting in their 20s.
Certain women, because of their family history, a genetic tendency, or certain other factors should be screened with MRI in addition to mammograms. (The number of women who fall into this category is small: it is less than 2 percent of all the women in the US.) If you think you are at higher risk for breast cancer, please talk with your doctor about your history and whether you should have an MRI. For more information on breast cancer screening, please call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-ACS-2345, anytime, day or night..
The earliest sign of breast cancer is usually something seen on a mammogram before the woman or health care professional can feel it. Larger tumors may become noticeable as a breast lump, thickening, swelling, distortion, tenderness, skin irritation, dimpling, nipple pain, scaliness, ulceration, retraction, or spontaneous discharge. All suspicious lumps or breast changes should be checked by your doctor.
Aside from being female, age is the most important factor affecting breast cancer risk. About 77 percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are age 50 or older. About 18 percent of breast cancer diagnoses are among women in their 40s. Risk is also increased by:
- Inherited genetic mutations (BRCA1 and BRCA2)
- A personal or family history of breast cancer
- High breast tissue density (a mammographic measure of the amount of glandular tissue relative to fatty tissue in the breast)
- Biopsy-confirmed hyperplasia (especially atypical hyperplasia)
- High-dose radiation to the chest as a result of medical procedures
- Reproductive factors including a long menstrual history (menstrual periods that start early and/or end late in life), never having children, recent use of oral contraceptives, postmenopausal hormone therapy, and having one's first child after age 30
At this time, there is no guaranteed way to prevent breast cancer, which is why yearly mammograms are so important. In addition to yearly mammograms, the best way to reduce cancer risk overall is to:
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Engage in regular physical activity, at least 30 minutes on five or more days of the week
- Reduce alcohol consumption to no more than one drink per day for women (and no more than two drinks per day for men)
- Avoid or quit using tobacco products
To learn more about breast cancer, please visit www.cancer.org/breastcancer, or call us toll free at 1-800-ACS-2345, anytime, day or night.