To put it simply, breast cancer screenings are important for all women. While breast cancer can be found and treated after symptoms appear, many women with breast cancer have no symptoms at first. Regular screenings can help to detect cancer early while it’s small and hasn’t spread, making it easier to treat successfully.
Here are some tips from the American College of Radiology and Dr. Anneliese Gonzalez, medical oncologist specializing in breast cancer at Memorial Hermann Cancer Center-Texas Medical Center and assistant professor of oncology at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, to remind women (and men) when and how to get screened for breast cancer.
When Should You Get Screened?
Both age and family history are important factors in determining when to get a breast cancer screening. A woman with no family history of breast cancer, and no genetic mutations known to increase the chance of breast cancer, is considered to be at average risk. Women of average risk for breast cancer should begin screening mammography at age 40 and continue screening annually according to the American College of Radiology.
For women of high risk, it’s recommended that they begin screening (possibly with a yearly MRI in addition to mammograms) starting at age 30 and continue for as long as they are in good health.
Women who may be at increased risk for developing breast cancer include those with:
- a history of radiation therapy to the chest
- a genetic mutation including an abnormality in the BRCA 1/BRCA 2 or CHD1 genes
- Bannayan-Rilet Syndrome
- a history of lobular carcinoma in situ
- a strong family history of breast cancer
Dr. Gonzalez advises, “Women at high risk for breast cancer need to take into account their personal circumstances, family history and preferences, and address these with their doctor to determine the appropriate screening program for them. Genetic counseling can also be recommended for some of these patients to better quantify their risk of breast cancer and other cancers.”
What Are the Types of Breast Cancer Screenings?
The goal of breast cancer screenings is to find the cancer while it is small not causing any symptoms, therefore increasing the chances for cure.
“The size of a breast cancer and if it has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm or other parts of the body determines how difficult the cancer is to treat and the likelihood of being cured from the disease,” said Dr. Gonzalez. “There are various screenings available including self exams, clinical exams and mammograms.”
Self-exams are an option for young women to familiarize themselves with their breasts so that they can notice change more easily. CNN recently wrote a story featuring a viral image of a carton of lemons from a charity called Worldwide Breast Cancer. Each lemon depicts a different symptom similar to those caused by breast cancer. A post featuring the photo was shared thousands of times on social media, and the article says that many women reported they were able to recognize their breast cancer symptoms because of the signs they knew to look for.
Mammograms are X-rays of the breast that look for changes that may be signs of breast cancer. Mammograms are a very important part in taking care of your breasts, and it’s important for women to know how to prepare for a mammogram so that they go more smoothly.
Should Men Get Screened?
Breast cancer is more common in women and rare among men, creating an overall lack of awareness for male breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, men have a tendency to ignore breast lumps because they think they are caused by some other reason than cancer, and they don’t see a doctor until after the mass has grown. Because of the rarity, most men won’t benefit from a screening. So who should be screened?
Men who have a strong family history of breast cancer should discuss with their physician if they should undergo genetic counseling to determine if testing for a genetic mutation and breast cancer screening is appropriate. Other factors that may increase male breast cancer risk include aging, inherited gene mutations, radiation exposure, heavy alcohol consumption, liver disease, estrogen treatment, obesity and more.
To learn more about your personal risk factors for breast cancer or when or how often to get mammograms, visit our website or schedule an appointment with your primary care physician or OB/GYN. Use ScheduleNow or call (713) 222-2273 for a referral to a doctor. For a list of frequently asked questions, click here.