By Connie Lehman, MD
Director of Breast Imaging
Medical Director of Radiology
Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
10 Tips for Breast Cancer Screening and Early Detection
1. Get screened regularly. Early detection offers the best chance for a cure. Screening guidelines vary; talk to your healthcare provider to determine what is right for you based on your individual risk factors. The Seattle Cancer Care Alliance supports the American Cancer Society’s recommendation that women begin annual mammography screening at age 40.
2. Choose a mammography expert. Numerous studies show that doctors who specialize in mammography are more accurate at interpreting the images compared with physicians with less experience. Have your mammograms read by a doctor who specializes in reading them.
The American College of Radiology offers an online search for accredited facilities and Breast Imaging Centers of Excellence such as the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
3. Go digital. Centers that specialize in digital mammography are best for women with dense breast tissue and women under age 50. Digital scans can do a better job than traditional film mammography of detecting cancer in these women.
4. Don’t put off screening because ofdiscomfort. A mammogram should never be painful. Fear that the exam will be uncomfortable is one reason why women put off scheduling a mammogram. To reduce discomfort, try to schedule the exam after your monthly period, when breast tissue is less sensitive. You may benefit from taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen before your mammogram. Above all, tell the mammography technologist about any discomfort you may be experiencing.
5. Don’t put off screening because of fear. Most abnormalities found after a mammogram are not cancer. In some cases, however, additional mammography or ultrasound is needed to confirm that the area on the screening mammogram is normal. That’s why you may be asked to return for a follow-up exam.
6. Consider getting results while you wait. Particularly for your first mammogram, you may want to schedule it in such a way that you receive the results before you leave the imaging center. Or, if you have found that you are frequently called back to the imaging center for a second scan, you can ask that your appointment include getting results to you while you wait.
7. Practice breast self-awareness. Know how your breasts feel normally. Your healthcare provider can show you how to do breast self-exam. If you notice a change in your breasts, such as a lump or swelling, skin irritation, or dimpling, talk to your healthcare provider.
8. Have a clinical breast exam. The American Cancer Society recommends that women 40 and older receive annual clinical breast exams. Women in their twenties and thirties should have a clinical breast exam as part of a periodic health exam at least every three years.
9. Know your risk. If you have a family history of breast cancer, especially if a mother or sister has been diagnosed before reaching menopause, tell your doctor, as your own risk may be higher than average. For example, a 20 percent increase in risk could mean that you should have an annual magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan in addition to a screening mammogram.
10. Try an online risk calculator. The Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool, designed by the National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov/bcrisktool), is a questionnaire to help women determine their chances of developing invasive breast cancer.