Four steps are key to detecting breast cancer early

from the American Institute of Cancer Research and
Veterans Memorial Hospital
Early detection can prove to be lifesaving when it comes to detecting and fighting breast cancer. There are four important ways to play a crucial part in finding breast cancer early on, which could significantly increase one’s chances of recovery should one be diagnosed with the disease.
1. Perform a monthly breast self-exam (BSE.) Because 65 to 70 percent of all breast cancers are found by women themselves, there’s no substitute for doing a BSE. Examine the breasts the week following a menstrual period for anyone age 20 and over. For women who are no longer menstruating, they should perform a BSE the first day of every month.
2. Have regular exams of the breast by a physician. Doctors will usually examine the breasts as part of a routine check-up or when women have a Pap test to screen for cervical cancer. Women should have a physician exam at least once every three years between ages 20 and 40. After age 40, they need to have a physician exam every year. Depending on the woman’s medical history, her doctor may recommend more frequent exams.
3. Have a screening mammogram regularly. Mammograms are very important because they look for breast cancer in women who do not have any symptoms. They can detect breast cancer long before it can be felt. Mammograms, however, are not a substitute for BSEs. Since no diagnostic test is 100% accurate, cancers are sometimes detected through BSE that are missed through mammograms.
Women should have their first mammogram between the ages of 35 and 39. This is called a “baseline” mammogram, and will serve as a point of comparison for any changes in the breast. Have a mammogram every year after age 40. Depending on one’s medical history, the doctor may have different recommendations about when they should have their first mammogram and how often they should have additional ones.
4. Be alert to possible symptoms. If a woman experiences any changes in their breast that are unusual to them and are persistent, especially if they occur only in one breast, they need to consult their physician. Some possible symptoms to be aware of include the following: a lump or thickening of the breast; breast pain; dimpling or puckering under the skin; changes in skin color or texture; change in breast shape; swelling, redness or heat in the breast; retraction of the nipple; and scaly skin on or around the nipple.
Anyone finding an abnormal lump during a BSE or experiencing any of the possible symptoms of breast cancer needs to see their physician right away. Having these symptoms does not necessarily mean breast cancer. Fortunately, most breast lumps are not cancerous, but only a doctor can be sure. If the diagnosis is cancer, the quicker one acts on it, the better their chances of successful treatment and recovery.
For more information,  call Becky Welper, RN, Chemotherapy Coordinator at Veterans Memorial Hospital at 563-568-3411.