According to BreastCancer.org, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. For women in the U.S., breast cancer is the second leading cause of death, second only to lung cancer. Detecting breast cancer in its early stages offers the best chance of survival.
According to the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer has a 98% survival rate when detected early (localized). The earlier breast cancer is detected, the better chance a person has of surviving five years post-diagnosis. Techniques such as self-breast exams, clinical breast exams and mammograms can help health care providers detect breast cancer in this critical stage.
Women are encouraged to perform breast self-exams at least once a month. While mammograms can help you to detect cancer before you can feel a lump, breast self-exams help you to be familiar with how your breasts look and feel so that you can better detect changes. These exams can be performed in the shower, in front of a mirror or while lying down. Learn more about performing a self-breast exam .
Clinical Breast Exam
A clinical breast exam is performed by a qualified nurse or doctor who checks for lumps or other physical changes in the breast. These professionals are trained to recognize abnormalities. A clinical breast exam typically consists of a visual and manual assessment of the skin, tissue and lymph nodes of the breast, underarm and collarbone. This exam is often performed in conjunction with your annual physical exam.
Mammograms are x-rays of the breasts used to detect tumors before they can be felt. The American Cancer Society recommends a baseline mammogram screening for women between the ages of 35 to 39, and a yearly mammogram for women age 40 and over.
There are two types of mammograms:
- Screening mammogram- an X-ray of the breast used to detect breast changes in women who have no signs or symptoms of breast cancer. This type of mammogram usually involves 2 X-rays of each breast.
- Diagnostic mammogram- an X-ray of the breast used to diagnose unusual breast changes, such as a lump, pain, nipple thickening or discharge, or a change in breast size or shape. A diagnostic mammogram is also used to evaluate abnormalities detected on a screening mammogram.
If you are at a high risk for developing breast cancer, your doctor may recommend screening at a younger age, along with additional imaging studies.
Risk factors for breast cancer can include things such as lifestyle, menstruation, motherhood, hormones, family history and genetics, and age. Some factors, such as smoking, weight and alcohol intake, can be changed, while other risk factors cannot.