Checking for breast cancer is a lifelong process and many doctors believe the sooner you start, the better off you'll be. Prevention is still the No. 1 weapon, and many cancers detected in their earliest stages can be more easily and effectively treated, even cured.
For young women age 20 and up, that means learning the proper way to do a breast self-examination and doing it regularly, every month, preferably a few days after your period begins, when you're likely to be less tender or swollen. There's a specific pattern and technique to make sure you don't miss anything. Not sure how? Watch the video:
The American Cancer Society believes regular self-exams aren't necessary for women of average risk and may even lead to unnecessary biopsies. But other experts strongly recommend self-exams. Check with your doctor about your personal situation.
Once you reach age 30 many experts believe you should be getting a clinical breast exam annually and that at 40, it's time for your first mammogram, especially if there's cancer in your family. Here again, the American Cancer Society and others disagree, saying it's fine to wait until you're 50.
Mammograms cost about $100 and are still considered the gold standard for breast cancer detection.
Other forms of screening, like 3D mammograms, ultrasounds and breast magnetic resonance imaging cost more but can also potentially tell you a great deal more.
Also, you've no doubt heard about the BRCA genetic mutation that indicates a high risk for breast cancer. If members of your family have had breast cancer, consider genetic testing seriously.
“High-risk individuals should undergo genetic testing as soon as possible,” says City of Hope hospitalist Monique White-Dominguez, D.O. “It’s a simple blood test. Screening is helpful for everyone: low-risk, average-risk and high-risk. I urge women to have this discussion with their physician or their licensed health care provider. I’m passionate about screening.”
The key is to take charge of your own health. There's no unanimity on when and how to begin screening, so it's up to you. Talk to your doctor and lay out a plan that works for you.