October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to raise awareness about the impact of breast cancer. This year we want to focus on importance of early detection—testing for cancer before it spreads. Detecting breast cancer early allows for the best possibility of successful treatment. Here are three steps to early detection:
1. Breast self-awareness
Breast self-awareness can help you become familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel. Knowing this will help you identify any changes in your breasts that should be reported to your health care provider promptly. If you find a lump, schedule an appointment with your doctor, but don’t panic – most lumps are not cancer.
2. Yearly Well-Woman Exam
It is recommended that women visit their family physician or gynecologist each year for a Well-Woman Exam. In addition to a routine pelvic exam and pap smear, the doctor may perform a brief breast exam to check for abnormalities.
The Well-Woman Exam is a great opportunity for you to discuss with your health care provider any questions or concerns you have regarding your breast health. For example, your doctor may help you to determine the most appropriate personalized frequency for your early detection steps.
3. Yearly Mammogram after Age 50
In its early stages, breast cancer doesn’t usually cause symptoms. US Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women ages 50 and older get a mammogram every year. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. It is a safe way to detect cancerous tumors and other abnormal breast conditions, and women who have screening mammograms have a lower chance of dying from breast cancer than women who do not have screening mammograms.
Mammograms can detect cancer or other problems before a lump becomes large enough to be detected by touch. They provide an effective way to find breast cancer in its early stages when treatment is usually the most successful.
The decision to start screening mammography in women prior to age 50 years should be an individual one. Women who place a higher value on the potential benefit than the potential harms may choose to begin biennial screening between the ages of 40 and 49 years.
To learn more about how to find a Primary Care Provider who can help you stay up to date on your breast cancer screenings, click here.