Most women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease, and don’t have any risk factors. Little wonder, then, that the recommendations for breast cancer screening apply to all women, regardless of their individual medical history.
Because breast cancer screening can detect breast cancer long before symptoms occur, routine screenings offer the best chance for women to find out they have cancer in time to defeat it. The longer cancer is allowed to grow unchecked, the greater the risk that it will infiltrate other areas of the body; sadly, once breast cancer has spread, it is far more difficult to combat.
Mammography remains the best screening tool for detecting early cancers, but for many women, the idea of having their breast tissue pressed flat is less than appealing. During a mammogram, it is true the breast is compressed between two plates, as pressing the tissue flat yields the best view of the soft tissue within the breast. The good news, however, is that the breast compression portion of the exam lasts only a few seconds.
While most patients report feeling only pressure or discomfort, for a few women a mammogram can be painful. Tell your technologist right away if you do experience pain.
Should you schedule your annual breast exam right away? Here are the current guidelines:
- Women between the ages of 40 – 44 can start having yearly mammograms.
- Women between the ages of 45 – 54 should absolutely get mammograms every year.
- Women over the age of 55 can continue yearly exams, or may switch to scheduling once every two years.
- As long as they are healthy, women should continue to have regular breast exams into their golden years.
All women should also be giving themselves breast self-exams at least once per month. These exams should be performed either in the shower, in front of a mirror, or lying down in bed. A breast self-exam consists of raising one arm and gently feeling the breast tissue with small, circular motions, covering the entire breast and the armpit.
Becoming familiar with what is normal for their own breasts is a vital piece of the puzzle when it comes to breast self-exams, so women should perform their self-exams often. Because hormonal shifts can cause fluctuation in breast tissue, women may find it beneficial to observe if and how their breasts vary at different points in their menstrual cycle. Visit http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-self-exam for detailed self-exam instructions and helpful video content.
But how much does all of this really help? Do breast self-exams and mammograms make that big of a difference when it comes to defeating breast cancer? Let’s take a look at the numbers.
- The five-year relative survival rate for women with stage 0 or stage I breast cancer — cancer that has just begun to form — is nearly 100%.
- For women with stage II breast cancer, the 5-year relative survival rate is about 93%.
- The 5-year relative survival rate for stage III breast cancers is about 72%.
- Metastatic cancers, or stage IV breast cancers, are so called because they have spread to other parts of the body. Women with stage IV breast cancer have a 5-year relative survival rate of about 22%.
As you can see, the earlier breast cancer is detected, the better the rates of survival. Early detection is key; self-examinations are free, and almost all insurers cover the cost of mammography. Don’t delay; schedule today for your peace of mind.