By Julie Wiekamp, MPAS, PA-C
Breast cancer affects many homes in the United States. Chances are, most of us have a relative or a friend that has been diagnosed with breast cancer. In fact, it is the most common type of non-skin cancer for women in the US. Early cancer detection leads to better outcomes. Thus, it is very important to discuss cancer risk and breast cancer screening with your provider.
Screening is very different based upon your individual risk factors. Women at high risk for developing breast cancer are those with a prior history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, a genetic predisposition (ie, BRCA gene) or radiotherapy to the chest between ages 10-30. These women must undergo more rigorous screening, and the screening is often begun at a much earlier age.
Mammography is still the best imaging method to screen for breast cancer. Mammograms use xray technology to view changes in the breast that can not be appreciated on breast exam. They are effective for early cancer detection.
For the average woman, mammography begins some time between ages 40-50. The American Cancer Society(ACS) recommends women discuss mammography with their provider at age 40. Based upon risk factors, some may choose to start screening at that time. The ACS recommends yearly mammography between the ages of 45-55. At age 55, women of average risk may discuss the risks and benefits of screening mammography every 1-2 years. The US Preventative Task Force Services and American College of Gynecologists have slightly different recommendations. If there is a strong family history of breast cancer, sometimes screening may even begin earlier than age 40.
What about self breast exam? In general, women need to be familiar with their own breasts. It is important to be able to recognize new lumps or masses within your breasts. Breast cancer may cause the skin along your breast to become irritated, red, scaly, orange or even dimply. Nipple discharge, retraction and tenderness may also be a sign of cancer.
Yearly well woman physicals are very important! Physicals are a perfect time to discuss risk factors, perform breast exam, schedule mammograms and discuss any other preventative care that may be needed. If you have any concerns regarding changes in your breasts, make sure to schedule a check up.