Detecting Breast Cancer Early

While breast cancer treatment has improved dramatically in the past few decades, the disease continues to threaten the lives of millions of women in the United States.

Fortunately, there are steps that women can take to detect breast cancer early while the prognosis can still be favorable.

These tips refer to a percentage risk that your doctor works up from a questionnaire that patients fill out. Among the questions are those pertaining to family history, bad habits like smoking, and lifestyle habits.

Below are guidelines provided by the American Cancer Society on screening for breast cancer:

Yearly mammograms are recommended starting at age 40 and should continue for as long as a woman is in good health.

A clinical breast exam should be part of a periodic health exam. Women in their 20s and 30s should schedule such checkups about once every three years, and women 40 and older should get such an exam every year.

Women should know how their breasts normally feel and report any breast changes promptly to their health care providers. Breast self-exam is an option for women starting in their 20s.

For a select group of women, having an MRI scan to find breast cancer in addition to a yearly mammogram may give them an extra edge in early detection.

Women at high risk (greater than 20 percent lifetime risk) should get an MRI and a mammogram every year.

Women at moderately increased risk (15 to 20 percent lifetime risk) should talk with their doctors about the benefits and limitations of adding MRI screenings to their yearly mammograms.

Yearly MRI screenings are not recommended for women whose lifetime risk of breast cancer is less than 15 percent.

Source: The American Cancer Society.