Slowly and steadily, we have been making strides in breast cancer prevention, detection, and treatment. Between 1989 and 2015, the overall breast cancer death rate has declined by 39%,1 and while this is a great reason to celebrate, it also encourages us to double down our efforts and continue the fight.
The Power of Education
I’ve treated patients with breast cancer from 27 to 87 years old. I have answered a lot of questions, addressed concerns, and tried to calm fears. And I’ve learned that, in addition to early detection, one of the best weapons against this disease is education.
Patients are on the frontline of the battle, and arming them with the right information can have a positive effect on outcomes. Here are some of the questions I am most frequently asked about breast cancer screening.
When should I start getting screened?
By age 40, women and men (yes, guys can get breast cancer, too) should discuss their family history and personal medical history with their doctors to determine their screening needs based on whether they are at average risk or higher risk for breast cancer.
- If you have no family history of breast cancer (average risk) — Women should begin having mammograms at age 40 and continue with them every year to every other year depending on a host of factors to be discussed with their physician. After age 50 the universal recommendation is for yearly mammograms.
- If you have a family history of breast cancer (higher risk) — Discuss your family history with your doctor, the type of breast cancer, which side of your family it’s on, and whether you are a candidate for earlier or additional screenings or tests.
What constitutes a family history of breast cancer?
A family history of breast cancer is defined as breast cancer in a first-degree relative. For women, that’s your mother, sister, or daughter. For men, that’s your father, brother, or uncle.
Do mammograms hurt?
Many of my patients believe that a mammogram will hurt. I won’t go as far as to say that it hurts, but it is uncomfortable. The flatter the breast can be “smooshed” during the test the better the image will be — and considering the purpose of the screening, the discomfort is worth it.
What happens if I get an abnormal test result?
If you get an abnormal result, you will need follow-up mammograms, tests, films, or a biopsy. This is the time to discuss your options with your doctor.
Breast Cancer Prevention is Our Best Defense
According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime — and until we figure out how to prevent breast cancer, early detection is our best defense. Regardless of your age or family history, talk to your doctor, assess your risk, and have regular screenings.