Breast Cancer & Mammography
What You Should Know About Breast Cancer
Virginia Hospital Center encourages women to be actively involved in monitoring their own health and taking preventive measures against breast cancer. In recent years, the early detection of breast cancer has saved the lives of thousands of women across the United States.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women and it is the second leading cause of cancer death, after lung cancer. However, when detected early, breast cancer is very treatable.
Women over age 20 should be aware of the warning signs and risk factors for breast cancer.
By performing regular monthly exams, you will become familiar with the normal bumps you feel in your breast, and be better able to detect any changes. Call your doctor if you notice changes such as:
- Thickening or swelling of breast tissue
- Any dimpling or distortion of the breast
- Skin irritation or scaliness of the breast
- Tenderness of the nipple, nipple discharge
- Change in size or color of the breast or nipple
- Lump in the breast or under the arm
As you get older, your risk of breast cancer increases. Your risk increases if you:
- Are over 50 years old
- Have had breast cancer
- Have a mother, grandmother or sister who has had breast cancer
- Began menstruation before you were 12 years old
- Stopped having periods after you were 55 years old
- Eat a diet that is high in fat
- Are very overweight
- Have never been pregnant
- Had your first baby after you were 30 years old
- Are on estrogen replacement therapy
When a lump is detected, it is most often NOT cancer. In fact, 70 percent of all breast lumps are benign. But, it is important for women to understand the importance of breast self-examinations and early cancer detection.
Early Breast Cancer Detection
Through breast self-examination (BSE), clinical breast examination (CBE) by your doctor and mammography, breast cancers are being detected earlier than ever before. You should learn how to perform monthly breast self-examinations.
Many women who have gone through menopause find performing an exam every month on a certain day helpful. If you still menstruate, the best time to do it is five days after the start of your period.
Breast self-exams are NOT a substitute for mammography or examination by a clinician, however.
Mammograms and regular breast examinations continue to be the best ways to detect breast cancer, and should be performed according to the American Cancer Society screening guidelines listed below.
Virginia Hospital Center follows the guidelines of the American Cancer Society in recommending:
- Yearly mammograms starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health
- Clinical breast exam (CBE) about every 3 years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and over
- Women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any breast changes to a health care provider right away. Breast self-exam (BSE) is an option for women starting in their 20s.
Some women – because of their family history, a genetic tendency, or certain other factors – should be screened with MRIs along with mammograms. (The number of women who fall into this category is small: less than 2% of all women in the United States.) Talk with a doctor about your history and whether you should have other tests or start testing at an earlier age.