Screening for Breast Cancer

As women age, their likelihood of developing breast cancer rises. Fortunately, routine screenings can help you protect yourself.

How Does Age Affect Risk?

Age is the strongest risk factor for breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. This is because the older we get, the more susceptible we are to abnormal changes in our cells. Based on current incidence rates, a woman born today has about a 1 in 8 chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer at some time during her life. Fewer than 5% of women diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. are younger than 40. Rates begin to increase after age 40 and are highest in women over age 70.

How Can I Know If Something is Off?

Current guidelines from the American Cancer Society recommend all women practice breast self-awareness. Breast self-awareness is about knowing how your breasts normally look and feel – and paying close attention if something seems off. If you notice any changes, even if they seem minor, it’s important to consult a health professional. Red flags include:

  • a lump, hard knot, or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
  • swelling, warmth, redness, or darkening of the breast
  • change in the size or shape of the breast
  • dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
  • pulling in of the nipple or other parts of the breast
  • nipple discharge that starts suddenly
  • new pain in one spot that doesn’t go away
Should I Get Clinical Breast Exams?

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), women age 19 and older should receive a clinical breast exam every year. A clinical breast exam is a physical examination of your breasts by a doctor, physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner, or nurse. If you have an annual physical or appointment, it is usually included as a routine check.

How Often Should I Get Mammograms?

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends women have an annual mammogram – an X-ray exam of the breasts – starting at age 40. Mammograms can often detect a lesion two years before the lesion is discovered by a clinical breast examination. Doctors believe that early screening for breast cancer saves thousands of lives each year.

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