Breast Cancer

A well-known cancer, breast cancer can be treatable and preventable. Though breast cancer may be a so-called woman’s cancer, it is possible for men to develop breast cancer too. It isn’t clear what causes breast cancer, but some types can be inherited.

The best treatment is prevention, which is why it is so important to be screened per your physician’s recommendations. Diagnosing breast cancer early increases the likelihood that your cancer will be treatable.

Breast Cancer Screening

Breast cancer screening means checking the breasts for cancer before there are signs or symptoms of it. There are three main ways to screen for breast cancer: clinical breast exam, mammography and MRI.

  • Clinical breast exam - A clinical breast exam is an examination by a health care provider, who uses his or her hands to feel for lumps or other changes in the breast or underarm.
  • Mammogram - A mammogram is a low-dose X-ray of the breast. Health care providers use a mammogram to look for early signs of breast cancer. Regular mammograms are the best test health care providers have to find breast cancer early.
  • MRI - If you have a family history or genetic tendency for breast cancer your doctor may recommend you get an MRI to screen for breast cancer in addition to mammograms.

Expert opinions vary about when and how often a woman should have a breast cancer screening. The American Cancer Society guidelines call for:

  • Yearly mammograms starting at age 40
  • Clinical breast exam about every 3 years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and over

Home Screening Exam

A breast self-exam is when a woman checks her own breasts for lumps, changes in size or shape of the breast, or any other changes in the breasts or underarm. Breast self-exams do not replace regular screening mammograms. If you do breast self-exams, it is important to remember that breast changes can occur because of pregnancy, aging, menopause, taking birth control pills or other hormones, and during menstrual cycles. It is normal for breasts to feel a little lumpy and uneven. It is also common for breasts to be swollen and tender right before or during a menstrual period.