Early Detection Saves Lives: Do You Have a Plan?

Patient Expert

_According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year survival rate for women diagnosed with early breast cancer is upwards of 99%. How can you ensure you'll find any potential breast cancer early, before it spreads? Make an early detection plan, and stick with it. _

Breast cancer. It's the disease most women fear most; not just cancer, but an "intimate" cancer, one that attacks the part of your body that most prominently proclaims your womanhood.

Some women love their breasts; others feel they could use some improvement. But it's the rare woman who doesn't care what her breasts look like. Breast cancer is a blow not just to your overall health, but potentially to your self-esteem and psyche, as well.

Breast cancer treatment has come a long, long way over the past 40 years. Still, the very best way to not have to deal with breast cancer is to never get it in the first place.

And, while breast cancer for some unlucky women is harder to avoid (given their family history or faulty genes), for most of us there are ways we can try to prevent breast cancer. A healthy diet, regular exercise, and saying no to alcohol and cigarettes are known breast cancer preventives.

If, despite all of your efforts, you do get breast cancer, the best way to improve your survival chances is to find it early, while the cancer is small and hasn't spread. And the best way to do that? Craft an early detection plan, and put it into action.

Here are five elements of a good breast cancer early detection plan:

**Know what your healthy breasts feel like.  **

The American Cancer Society no longer recommends a monthly breast self-exam, suggesting instead that you become familiar enough with your breasts that you feel a lump sooner rather than later.

Whether you run your hands over your breasts (and into your armpits) every morning before getting up, or while you're soaping up in the shower, create a process that will insure you feel any change just as soon as you possibly can.

Understand how your family's history with breast cancer affects your own risk.

Family history is one of the most significant breast cancer risk factors. If your mother had breast cancer before age 50; or a sister (or daughter) has had breast cancer, your risk is increased significantly. If other relatives (including those on your father's side) have had breast or ovarian cancer, your risk is increased, though not as much.

Why is knowing your family history important? Because if you know you're at increased risk, you'll be extra vigilant about early detection.

If you're approaching 40, speak to your doctor about your screening mammogram schedule.

The medical community is no longer 100% behind yearly mammograms beginning at age 40; first, because many women undergo needless diagnostic procedures after a "questionable" mammogram; and second, because mammography itself potentially increases cancer risk.

The current recommendation is for every woman to speak to her doctor about her own family breast cancer history, and possible risk factors; then make a decision on screening mammography based on that information.

Know your breast density.

After your first mammogram, ask your radiologist if you have dense breasts. Breast density is a breast cancer risk factor; women with clinically identified dense breasts (a high percentage of tissue, compared to fat) are up to six times more likely than other women to get breast cancer.

Dense breasts also lower the accuracy of traditional mammograms. If you learn you have dense breasts, ask your doctor about digital mammography, which is better at seeing abnormal tissue; or adding MRI and/or ultrasound to your regular screening schedule.

Learn the symptoms of breast cancer.

Is pain before your period a sign of cancer? How about itchy nipples? And what about a lump in your armpit?

Like any other part of your body, your breasts can exhibit changes, from pain to itching to dimpled skin, redness, or bruising. If you know which of these changes might signal breast cancer, you'll be less likely to ignore something important.

Our Guide to Breast Cancer Symptoms is a great place to start your education.


Port, D. (2014, October 11). 10 things to do now to reduce your breast cancer risk later. Retrieved October 18, 2014, from http://www.today.com/health/10-things-do-now-reduce-your-breast-cancer-risk-later-2D80208995