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Screening recommendations

What are the current breast cancer screening guidelines for women of different ages?

Physician breast exams should start at age 20 and should be repeated at least once every three years until age 40. You should start annual (every year) mammography and physician breast exams at age 40, according to the American Cancer Society. Monthly breast self exam (BSE) should start at age 25. They should be performed the week after your menstrual cycle (period) if you are still having periods or at the same time each month if you are not. A woman who is at a higher risk for breast cancer because of a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer, or who has had radiation treatment to the chest, may need to start screening earlier and other screening tests such as MRIs may need to be added.

Should women do breast self exams?

Studies have shown that breast self exams have not lowered the mortality of breast cancer like mammography has. This however, does not mean that breast self exam cannot detect cancers. Mammography can miss as many as 15 percent of cancers. Therefore, physician and self exams can help find those cancers. Exams done monthly can allow women to know what their normal breast exam is like and be able to identify changes that can be brought to their doctor’s attention.

What can women do to ensure breast health?

The most important way to ensure breast health is to obtain screening as described above. Physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight and minimizing alcohol consumption may also help lower the risk of breast cancer.

Do certain foods encourage or discourage breast cancer?

Current research suggests that physical activity, a healthy diet (low fat) and a healthy weight can help reduce the risk of getting breast cancer for the first time. A recent study showed that women who have not been through menopause (pre-menopausal) may lower their risk with calcium and vitamin D supplementation. A low fat diet has been shown to help reduce the risk of a breast cancer recurrence for women who have already had breast cancer. Unfortunately, most risk factors that we have some control over have only a modest effect on risk compared to the factors we have no control over (being a woman, getting older, family history).

What is my risk? Is it really 1 in 8?

All women are at risk for getting breast cancer and as you get older your risk increases. If you live to 90, your risk of getting breast cancer in your lifetime is about 14 percent, or around 1 in 7 to 1 in 8. Remember though, that means that you have an 86 percent risk of NOT getting breast cancer.