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Detecting Breast Cancer Early With Annual Mammograms

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After the age of 40, yearly mammograms are key in early detection. Women of all ages should participate in monthly self-exams. There are two types of mammograms: screening and diagnostic. A screening exam is used for women who currently show no signs of cancer. A diagnostic exam is for women who have displayed abnormal results in a screening exam.

The Importance of an Annual Mammogram

The statistics surrounding breast cancer and women are staggering. One out of every eight women will get breast cancer. Breast cancer is the No. 2 killer of women, beat out only by lung cancer. Early detection is important in the battle against breast cancer. If found in an early localized stage, the survival rate is nearly 100 percent.

Treatment by Stage

Stages of breast cancer are defined by the magnitude of cancer in the body. The size and location of the cancer as well as how far it has spread into other parts of the body are considered. If a cancer is said to be invasive, then it has moved beyond the point of origin in the milk duct to the breast tissue itself.

Stage 0 is not considered cancer but there is evidence of abnormal cells in the milk duct. This is a non-invasive stage that does not require surgery or radiation. Careful monitoring for additional growth and hormone therapy may be prescribed.

Stage 1A means the tumor is small and the cancer has not spread.

Stage 1B means the lymph nodes are showing signs of cancerous cells but the breast tumor is nonexistent or very small. Detection at this point makes treatment very effective. Cancer caught in Stage 1 can be treated with surgery and/or radiation, but typically chemotherapy is not required. The survival rate is 98 percent.

The survival rate for Stage 2 cancer dips to 85 percent, and treatment becomes more aggressive.

Stage 3 breast cancer can become inoperable when the cancer has spread to the point that surgery alone will not remove it. Stage 3 is treatable with aggressive actions such as mastectomy and chemotherapy. Survival rates continue to decline.

Breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, such as heart, lungs and brain, is considered Stage 4. Stage 4 is incurable, but treatments are available that extend the life of the cancer patient.

Early Detection Options

The earlier the detection, the less aggressive the treatment required. In order to succeed with early detection, women must have regular exams. Women up to age 40 should have a clinical breast exam done at least every 3 years. After the age of 40, yearly mammograms are key in early detection. Women of all ages should participate in monthly self-exams.

A clinical breast exam is performed by a doctor or medical staff member, usually during an annual wellness check. The medical professional will first look for changes or abnormalities in the breast, then they will palpate the breast tissue, feeling for lumps.

There are two types of mammograms: screening and diagnostic. A screening exam is used for women who currently show no signs of cancer. The breast tissue is X-rayed using a mammography machine. A diagnostic exam is for women who have displayed abnormal results in a screening exam. Three-dimensional mammography is now available.

The Right Timing

There are many options for obtaining a yearly mammogram. Hospitals, specialty clinics and mobile screening centers make it convenient for women to find a time and place for annual mammograms. All facilities, stationary or mobile, should be accredited by the American College of Radiology to ensure a quality screening.

Breast self-exams should be completed once a month at home. A self-exam is similar to the clinical exam. It starts with a visual exams to identify abnormalities, such as changes in size, discoloration or rippling of the skin, followed by skin palpation of each breast feeling for lumps follows.

Signs and Symptoms

Knowing the signs and symptoms of breast cancer will also help with early detection. These signs include changes in appearance, texture and discharge from the nipple. If any of these signs and symptoms occur, further testing is necessary.

The fact that 12 percent of all women will get breast cancer in their lifetime is daunting but knowing that early detection can provide a survival rate of nearly 100 percent is comforting. Frequent exams are the only way to achieve early detection. Schedule your exam today.

Adrienne Erin
Expert

Adrienne is a freelance writer navigating her first pregnancy. You can read more of her work on her blog Foodie Fitness, or follow her on Twitter as @foodierx.

Adrienne Erin
Expert

Adrienne is a freelance writer navigating her first pregnancy. You can read more of her work on her blog Foodie Fitness, or follow her on Twitter as @foodierx.