Mammograms save lives by detecting breast cancer in its earliest stage when treatment is still a viable option. A mammogram is a noninvasive x-ray used to check breast tissue for abnormalities long before symptoms can be felt.
Regular mammograms help improve a woman’s odds of survival in the event that she is diagnosed with breast cancer. They can also help prevent the need for extensive treatment if breast cancer is detected early.
According to the American College of Radiology (ACR), for every 100 women who undergo a screening mammogram, approximately 90 will be told that their results are normal and 10 will be asked to return for an ultrasound or additional mammogram. Out of these 10 patients, six will be reassured that their results are normal, two will be asked to schedule a six-month follow-up and two will be recommended to have a biopsy.
While mammograms are often performed on women over age 40, breast cancer can affect women of all ages. It is important to understand the best time to start getting mammograms and how women of all ages can practice proper breast care over their lifetimes.
The Risk of Breast Cancer in Women Under 40
Many young women are under the misconception that they are not at risk for breast cancer. Although breast cancer is not as common in women under 40, this devastating medical condition can develop at any age.
Breast cancer for women in their 20s and 30s accounts for less than five percent of all cases, according to the American Cancer Society. Since many women in this age group do not undergo mammograms, breast cancer is not usually diagnosed until its later stages, and is usually more aggressive.
There are several factors that increase a woman’s risk of developing this dreaded malady, such as a personal or family history of breast cancer. A woman may also be at an increased risk for breast cancer if she has a history of radiation therapy to her chest, an Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry due to mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2 or a family history of a genetic syndrome that places her at a higher risk. Never having a full-term pregnancy, being overweight and drinking alcohol can also increase this risk.
One of the biggest disadvantages of getting a mammogram too early is that the results are not always reliable. Young women tend to have denser breasts with more breast tissue and less fat, making it difficult for a mammogram to clearly detect any cancers. Because of this, and due to the overall low risk of developing breast cancer at a young age, mammograms are generally recommended to women over 40.
How Often to Get Mammograms After Age 40
The American Cancer Society recommends that women between the 40 and 44 begin annual breast cancer screenings with mammograms if they are comfortable doing so. Between 45 and 54, mammograms should be performed once a year.. Women who prefer a yearly visit can continue visiting their provider.
How to Perform a Breast Self-Exam at Home
Performing a breast self-exam at home is one of the best ways to detect possible changes in breast tissue or other signs of breast cancer. While a self-exam is not a substitute for regular mammograms, it can be a useful tool for women wanting to consistently evaluate their health in between visits to their doctors. Performing a breast self-exam at home is simple, pain free and takes just a few minutes.
- Stand in front of a mirror and remove your shirt and bra. With your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips, look for changes in breast size, color or shape. In the mirror, check for abnormal symptoms, such as puckering, dimpling or bulging of the skin, redness, soreness, swelling or a nipple that has inverted or changed position.
- Raise your arms above your head and look for these same changes. Check to see if any discharge leaks from one or both nipples, such as a milky, watery, or yellow fluid or blood.
- Lay down flat and use your right hand to feel your left breast. Using a firm touch, move your fingers in a circular motion starting from the top of the breast moving to the bottom, examining one side and then the other. Start with a light touch, followed by a medium touch and then a deeper touch. Take note of any unusual lumps in the breast tissue. Next, check your right breast.
- Feel your breasts while in a standing or sitting position. Look for the same signs and symptoms as in previous steps, using the same type of hand movements.
Schedule Your Mammogram Today
Mammograms are the best method to screen for breast cancer. To learn more about the optimum time to start a mammogram or to schedule one, contact Raleigh Gynecology & Wellness.