Breast Cancer (cont.)

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What are breast cancer symptoms and signs?

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The most common sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass in the breast. In addition, the following are possible signs of breast cancer:

  • Nipple discharge or redness
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Swelling of part of the breast or dimpling of the skin over the breast

It is best to detect breast cancer before any of these signs occur by following screening mammography guidelines.

You should discuss these or any other findings that concern you with your health care professional.

How is breast cancer diagnosed?

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Although breast cancer can be diagnosed by the above signs and symptoms, the use of screening mammography has made it possible to detect many of the cancers early before they cause any symptoms.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) has the following recommendations for breast cancer screenings:

Women age 40 and older should have a screening mammogram every year and should continue to do so as long as they are in good health.

    Mammograms are a very good screening tool for breast cancer. As in any test, mammograms have limitations and will miss some cancers. The results of your mammogram, breast exam, and family history should be discussed with your health care professional.

Women should have a clinical breast exam (CBE) as part of regular health exams by a health care professional about every 3 years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 years of age and over.

    CBE are an important tool to detect changes in your breasts and also trigger a discussion with your health care professional about early cancer detection and risk factors.

Mammography may offer less benefit to younger women than to older women. Younger women frequently have more dense breasts, and there is a higher incidence of false positive results in younger women. In contrast to the ACS recommendations, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that routine mammography screening begin at age 50. Women aged 40 to 49 are encouraged to discuss their situation with their health care practitioner to decide on the appropriate time to begin screening mammography.

Breast self-exam (BSE) is an option for women starting in their 20s. Women should report any breast changes to their health care professional.

If a woman wishes to do BSE, the technique should be reviewed with her health care professional. The goal is to feel comfortable with the way the woman's breasts feel and look and, therefore, detect changes.

Women at high risk (greater than 20% lifetime risk) should get an MRI and a mammogram every year. Women at moderate risk (15% to 20%) should talk to their doctor about the benefits and limitations of adding MRI screening to their yearly mammogram.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/25/2013

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