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Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers found in women, second only to some types of minor skin cancer. Breast cancer survival rates have increased, largely due to factors such as early detection.
But there is good news: When caught early, breast cancer in the early stages can be treated effectively.
The key to early detection and effective treatment is regular screening, which should begin between ages 40 and 45, unless other considerations are made by your primary care physician (PCP). Here’s what else you need to know about screening guidelines and options.
Healthcare providers continue to support the current American College of Radiology guidelines for early detection of breast cancer:
- Yearly mammograms are recommended 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 people in their 20s and 30s and every year for people 40 and over
- People should know how their breasts normally look and feel. Breast self-exam (BSE) is an option for people starting in their 20s
Your PCP will assist in making appointments with the screening center. The examinations are often covered by insurance.
There are a handful of screening options available for breast cancer. Your doctor will provide recommendations based on current health issues, your risk profile and other factors.
Mammogram: Mammograms are considered the “gold standard” in breast cancer screening. A mammogram is a specially designed X-ray that focuses on the breast. They provide the most advanced imaging and can identify potential cancers up to three years before symptoms are felt.
You will be required to place your breast on the examination surface, and a second plate will press down to get a clear picture. This process often requires pressure that can be uncomfortable for many people. However, the examination only takes a few minutes.
Contrast-Enhanced MRI: Breast MRI is not recommended as a routine screening tool for all. Although it is generally considered more sensitive for picking up breast cancer than mammography, it also can miss some cancers that would be detected by mammography.
This method is more invasive, and also more sensitive than a traditional mammogram, making this method a consideration for those with an elevated risk for breast cancer or inconclusive past screening. However, with this added sensitivity comes an increased probability of a false positive.
Ultrasound: Breast ultrasounds are also a favored choice for patients with an abnormal mammogram, dense breast tissue or an elevated risk of breast cancer. Ultrasound technology uses sound waves to map out the tissue, creating images to be assessed by your sonographer and radiologist.