You have heard the statistics numerous times already: Women in the United States have a 1 in 8 (or about 12 percent) lifetime risk of getting breast cancer. This means that for every eight women in the U.S. who live to be age 85, one will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime. Getting regular screening tests is the best way for women to lower their risk of dying from breast cancer. Screening tests can find breast cancer early, when the chances of survival are highest.
What Screening is right for me?
Regular breast cancer screening is important for all women, but even more so for those at higher risk. If you are at higher risk of breast cancer, you may need to be screened earlier and more often than other women.
A woman is considered at higher risk if she has one factor that greatly increases her risk or several factors that together increase risk. Your health care provider may use different tools to assess your risk and help you make a personalized breast cancer screening plan.
Factors that greatly increase breast cancer risk include:
- A mutation (or a 1st-degree relative with a mutation) in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene;
- A strong family history of breast cancer, such as a mother, sister, etc. diagnosed at age 40 or younger;
- A personal history of invasive breast cancer;
- A personal history of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) or atypical hyperplasia; and/or
- Radiation treatment to the chest area during childhood or young adulthood
A mutation (or a first-degree relative with a mutation) in the TP53 or PTEN genes (These gene mutations can lead to Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Cowden syndrome or Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome. People with one of these syndromes or who have a first-degree relative with one of these syndromes have an increased risk of breast cancer.)
It is important to determine your personal risk. Talk to both sides of your family about your family health history and talk with your health care provider about your personal risk of breast cancer. Assessing your risk will help your doctor develop a personalized breast cancer screening plan for you.
If you are at higher risk talk with your health care provider to determine which screening tests are right for you – and when they should begin. The tests may include clinical breast exams, mammograms and/or breast MRI.
Continue the discussion at each visit with your doctor as your family history or personal history may change over time, which may then change your screening plan.
Women at average risk are to:
- A mammogram every year starting at age 40;
- A clinical breast exam (CBE) at least every three years starting at age 20 and every year starting at age 40; and,
- Sign up for your screening reminder at www.komen.org/reminder
There is not a predetermined age to stop having mammograms or CBE’s. As we age, women who are in good health and could benefit from treatment (if breast cancer were found) should continue to get mammograms. Breast cancer risk increases with age, and mammography does not appear to be less effective, for instance, in women 70 and older. Women of all ages should continue to talk with their doctors about what screening tests are right for them.
Finally, be aware of breast changes.
You are the best judge of your own body and the best advocate for your health. Know what is normal for you! Be aware of the look and feel of your breasts. Regardless of your age or the date of your last screening, be sure to contact your health care provider anytime you notice any of the following changes in the look or feel of your breasts:
- 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 your nipple or other parts of the breast;
- Nipple discharge that starts suddenly; and/or,
- New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away.