Answers to Every Woman’s Breast Cancer Screening Questions
“But doctor, I don’t feel anything in my breasts. Why do I need to get screened?” This is probably one of the most commonly asked breast cancer screening questions. Many patients also want to know: “why is routine screening so important, who needs to be screened, and what does screening include?” If you are thinking about scheduling a screening, find out the facts straight from the experts at Family Health Centers. Then, recognize National Mammography Day by scheduling an appointment.
Why are Breast Cancer Screenings Recommended?
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in women and is the second leading cause of cancer death in women in the United States. Here are some basic facts about breast cancer:
- One out of eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer every year.
- In 1975, only 75 percent of women were estimated to survive more than five years after diagnosis. However, due to early detection and better treatment options, 90 percent of women are now expected to survive.
- The earlier breast cancer is detected, the less invasive and more effective the treatment is.
The goal of breast cancer screenings is to improve health outcomes by detecting cancer in healthy women who have not yet begun to have clinical symptoms.
Breast exams alone cannot detect early changes in the breast tissue that have not yet formed a palpable tumor or a tumor that is too small to feel with the hands. Women with larger breasts or who have dense breast tissue, which means that their breast tissue is made of more fibrous tissue, are at higher risk of missing an early tumor.
Who is at Risk of Developing Breast Cancer?
While all women are at risk for breast cancer, some women have higher risk factors, such as:
- Family history of breast, ovarian, prostate, or pancreatic cancer
- A specific gene mutation (or change) called the BRCA gene can be passed down to children and is associated with a high risk of breast and ovarian cancer
- Longer exposure to the hormone estrogen which includes early onset of menstruation, late menopause, late first pregnancy, hormone therapy, and certain birth control methods
- Increased age
- Smoking and alcohol consumption
- Prior exposure to radiation therapy for cancer in a woman before the age of 30
- Certain ethnicities such as Ashkenazi Jewish women who have a higher rate of BRCA gene mutations
When Should I Get Screened, and What Does Screening Include?
Guidelines may change, and opinions vary about the age and frequency of breast cancer screenings, but for the purpose of this article, the guidelines are based on the recommendations of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), which is what many OB/GYN providers follow.
- Between the ages of 25 — 39, women should be offered a clinical breast exam, which a provider does in the office by hand, every 1 to 3 years.
- Between 40 — 49 years, clinical breast exams should be offered annually.
- The clinician should also have an open discussion with the patient regarding mammogram screening which includes discussing the patient’s individual risk factors for cancer, the risks, and benefits of mammogram screening, and whether or not it should be done every other year or yearly.
- By age 50, all opinions agree that mammograms should be recommended either every year or every other year, in addition to the clinical breast exam.
- By age 75, the choice to continue all screening methods should again be shared between the clinician and the patient and based on overall health and whether that patient is expected to live more than 10 years.
Recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October
As October has been designated Breast Cancer Awareness Month, please take this time to initiate a conversation with your health care provider about a breast cancer screening. Take advantage of the wonderful medical breakthroughs made in the early diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Contact us today to request an appointment for our women’s health services.