When was your last mammogram? One year ago? Five years ago? Never had one? While many women may know the importance of annual breast screenings and exams, for a variety of reasons, they may still avoid them. If detected and treated early, breast cancer is a highly curable disease. Yet guidelines are complex, and everyone is different. There are different factors increasing and decreasing one’s risk in developing breast cancer, including heredity. More intervention isn’t necessarily better, either. Dr. V. K. Gadi, a medical oncologist with Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, is a global leader in breast cancer care and treatment. Breast cancer ranks as the most common form of cancer and second-leading cause of cancer death among women in the United States. Gadi recommends women — and men — talk with their doctor to assess their personal risk for breast cancer in order to make the best choice about screenings and follow-ups.
Know Your Risk
Regular breast cancer screening is important for all women, but if you are at higher risk of breast cancer because of genetic or environmental factors, you may need to be screened earlier and more frequently than other women.
Factors that increase your risk:
- Having close relatives with breast cancer (genetic factors)
- Late menopause
- Obesity and low physical activity
- Drinking alcohol
Factors that decrease your risk:
- Having given birth at a fairly young age
- Experiencing more full-term pregnancies
- Swelling of all or part of a breast
- Skin irritation or dimpling
- Nipple retraction (turning inward)
- Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
- Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
At any age
Rule No. 1 for women of all ages is to be aware: Know how your breasts normally look and feel. Report any persistent breast changes to a health professional, but remember that a breast change does not necessarily indicate cancer.
At age 39 and Younger
Women in their 20s should learn the benefits (and limitations) of breast awareness. Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam (CBE) as part of a regular health exam, preferably every three years.
At Age 40-69
Be sure to get a mammogram and a clinical breast exam every year.
At Age 70+
Mammograms should be continued regardless of a womanís age, except in cases of certain chronic health problems. Women with serious health problems or short life expectancies should discuss with their doctors whether to continue having mammograms.
Check your risk at seattlecca.org/breast-cancer-risk-assessment.cfm
Dr. V.K. Gadi is a medical oncologist with Seattle Cancer Care Alliance who specializes in providing care and treatment for women with breast cancer. Learn more at seattlecca.org.