Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines
Approximately 12% of all women will develop breast cancer at some point in their life. Breast cancer kills more women than any other type of cancer except for lung cancer. But it’s not hopeless – many women do get past it. There are 2.8 million breast cancer survivors living in the United States today.
A lot of who manages to survive breast cancer is left to chance, but early detection and proper treatments play a huge role in increasing your chances. With the goal of increasing the rates of survival, the American Cancer Society has recommended screening guidelines to help women at risk of breast cancer catch it early so they can pursue the proper treatment.
Screening Guidelines for Women
Since incidences of breast cancer occur more often with middle aged and older women, the recommended screening procedures vary by age.
Women Aged 20-40
If you fall into this age range, you should receive a clinical breast exam at least once every three years, and practice self breast exams more frequently to try to identify anything out of the ordinary.
Most OB/GYNs will perform the clinical breast exam (CBE) as part of a checkup, so if you have annual appointments with your gynecologist, you’re probably meeting the recommended guidelines. But if you don’t believe CBEs are being performed, you can always ask your doctor to make a point of doing one for you.
Women Aged 40 and up
If you’re 40 or older, you should receive yearly mammograms. A mammogram involves taking an x-ray of your chest in order to better catch any incidences of lumps or tumors. It’s more intensive than a CBE, but it’s also more effective for identifying an issue.
For Women with a History of Breast Cancer in their Family
Women who develop breast cancer at a young age have a lower survival rate, likely because they don’t catch it as quickly. While the screening recommendations are suitable for much of the population, if you have any reason to think you may be more at risk of breast cancer than your peers – for instance, if you have a mother, sister, or aunt with breast cancer, especially if she developed it at a young age – your risk doubles.
If you fall into this category, it’s smart to be especially on the lookout. Start the annual mammograms earlier, aiming for 10 years earlier than the age at which your relative was diagnosed. Talk to your doctor about how to recognize issues, make sure he or she talks you through how to do an effective self exam, and commit to checking for warning signs on a regular basis.
You don’t have to spend your life being paranoid and expecting the worse, but you can increase your risks of survival by simple doing a self breast exam once every month or two and being quick to call your doctor if you find anything suspicious. Most breast lumps won’t be cancerous, but it doesn’t hurt to check them out just in case as it could make the difference in your likelihood of survival.
All women should be on the lookout for the signs of breast cancer, but especially those with a higher risk due to age or family history. Getting the right treatment at the right time can mean you live a longer, healthier life. A little bit of prevention can go a long way.