Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in the United States, after skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Breast cancer develops in the breast, but it has the potential to metastasize (spread) to other areas of the body.
Early detection is important for successfully treating breast cancer. In other words, catching it at an early stage, before it has progressed or metastasized (spread), leads to better outcomes for patients.
Following are ways to detect breast cancer in its early stages:
Self Breast Exams
It is generally recommended that women over the age of 20 perform routine self breast exams . There are limits to what women can detect without the medical expertise of her physician; however, it is important for women to know how their breasts normally look and feel, so they can detect changes that may cause concern.
If you do notice changes in your breast, like size, shape, the presence of a lump, discharge, or changes in the skin, consult your physician. There may be no cause for concern; however, further testing may be recommended.
Clinical Breast Exams
Clinical breast exams are often performed at annual well-woman exams. Your physician will visually and manually examine your breasts and surrounding tissue for signs of concern, like lumps, discharge, or thickening of the skin.
The American Cancer Society recommends women in their 20s and 30s receive a clinical breast exam every three years, at minimum. Women over the age of 40 are recommended to receive a clinical breast exam annually.
Mammograms use X-ray imagery to examine the breasts. Mammograms are recommended as annual routine screening procedures for women over 40 by the American Cancer Society. A diagnostic mammogram may be recommended for women younger than 40, if signs of breast cancer are present during a clinical breast exam.