December 17, 2017

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Breast Cancer Risk and Screening Guidelines

October is National Breast Cancer month and while we see many sports organizations and other groups in the area are wearing pink to show their support to help raise awareness, at ACMC we want to start with you!

Breast cancer is still the second leading cause of cancer death among women in the United States exceeded only by lung cancer.  This year 1.4 million women worldwide will be diagnosed with breast cancer and approximately 39,520 are expected to die from it.  We don’t want you to be a part of that statistic!  Having regular mammograms could potentially save your life!

The primary goal of screening mammography is to decrease breast cancer deaths.  Secondary goals are to increase cancer detection and to detect cancer early.  If we are able to detect breast cancer early, we are able to increase the chances that you will survive breast cancer longer.

Who is at risk for breast cancer?

All women are at risk for breast cancer and some men are too.  The top two risk factors are being female and age.  The older a woman gets, the likelihood getting breast cancer increases.  Having a family history of breast cancer is known to increase your risk.  You may have heard that women who have never had children have an increased risk of getting breast cancer.  It isn’t a proven risk factor for all patients. There are some theories that breast feeding can decrease your risk and the more menstrual cycles you have the more your risk is increased. Higher levels of estrogen, or taking hormone replacements for an extended period of time has also been linked to some breast cancer cases. The evidence behind these theories is not concrete and so they are considered to be minimal risk factors.

Men have some breast tissue so they do have a risk of getting breast cancer but it is rare.  Men are not routinely screened for breast cancer but should contact their healthcare provider if they notice any changes in the appearance of their nipples, feel or see a lump in the chest area, experience breast pain or if the skin starts to dimple or pucker.

What are the screening guidelines for breast cancer?

The American College of Radiology, Society of Breast Imaging and the American Cancer Society recommends that starting at age 40, every woman should have annual screening mammograms.  Women at an increased risk, or think they might be at increased risk, should consult with their healthcare provider to determine the screening schedule and what types of screening tests should be done.  You are considered to be at high risk if you have:

  • One or more first degree relatives who have been previously diagnosed with breast cancer (mother, sister, daughter, father, brother or son).  Having a grandparent or aunt with a history of breast cancer is important information to know, but this only raises your risk moderately.
  • BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation present, or present in a first degree relative (your mother, sister, daughter) should begin screening mammography testing starting at age 30.  Genetic consultation is provided at the Willmar Regional Cancer Center.

If you have a strong family history or breast cancer, you should start your screening 10 years earlier than the age of diagnosis of the youngest affected relative, but not before the age of 25.  So if your mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 37, you should start screening at age 27.

How effective are self-breast exams?

The key to making self-breast exams effective for you is by doing them regularly; that means at least monthly.  You need to be familiar with what your breast tissue feels like before, during and after your menstrual cycle and recognize the changes that will happen. Technique is also important and if you have questions you should talk to your healthcare provider and be trained appropriately.  Then self-breast exams can be extremely effective and changes can be detected much sooner versus if you didn’t do it regularly. Also, a self breast exam is not a replacement for a clinical breast examination by your healthcare provider

“I’m an advocate of self-breast exams, but they need to be done correctly and regularly,” Kari Westby.

Kari Westby

Kari Westby, ACMC Radiation Safety & QA Manager

What should I do if I detect a lump?

Don’t ignore any lumps or noticeable changes in your breast tissue and make an appointment to see your healthcare provider immediately to determine if any additional testing is needed.

Call and schedule your mammogram screening today, your call could save your life!