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 the following guidelines for the early detection of breast cancer, to help you stay well. The American Cancer Society’s 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 3 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. 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 1-800-227-2345, anytime, day or night.
The earliest sign of breast cancer is usually seen on a mammogram before a woman or health care professional can feel it. Larger tumors may become noticeable as a breast lump. Other possible signs of breast cancer include thickening, swelling, tenderness, skin irritation, dimpling, nipple pain, scaliness, ulceration, nipple 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
- Dense breast tissue (having more glandular tissue relative to fatty tissue in the breast) A breast biopsy with a diagnosis of 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
Although there is no guaranteed way to prevent breast cancer at this time (which is why yearly mammograms are so important), there are steps you can take to reduce your breast cancer risk:
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Engage in moderate to vigorous regular physical activity (at least 45-60 minutes on 5 or more days of the week)
- Reduce the amount of alcohol you drink, if you drink at all, to no more than 1 drink per day for women (and no more than 2 drinks per day for men)
To learn more about breast cancer and what you can do to reduce your risk and stay well, please visit www.cancer.org/breastcancer, or call us toll-free at 1-800-227-2345, anytime, day or night.