How Is Breast Cancer Found?

Breast cancer is discovered by screening patients, with or without symptoms. Screening involves a series of tests to determine if a person has any evidence of breast cancer. Ideally, screening is done on a regular basis since early detection improves the chance for successful treatment. The guidelines developed by the American Cancer Society (ACS) improve a patient's chances of finding breast cancer at an early stage.

If a tumor is found, its size, type and how far it has spread are very important factors healthcare professionals use to predict the outlook for the patient. The ACS guidelines are three very simple steps to help ensure detection of breast cancer in patients who are not high risk: Mammograms, clinical examinations, and breast self-exams.

Mammograms should be scheduled yearly for women over 40 who are otherwise healthy. For women with other risk factors, doctors may recommend mammograms at an earlier age.

Clinical breast exams. A health professional should conduct clinical breast exams during a woman's annual physical exam. The ACS recommends having your clinical breast exam shortly before your mammogram to get a good idea of how your breasts normally feel.

Breast self-exams (BSEs) should be performed monthly beginning in your 20's. By doing this, women get to know what their breasts are supposed to feel like thereby helping them to identify changes in their breasts. This allows for earlier detection of potential problems.

You should have anything out of the ordinary checked by your doctor. This can be a lump or a bump, especially one that has uneven edges, or is not symmetrical. Lumps may be soft or hard. Remember, most lumps turn out to be benign or non-cancerous, so don't panic. Some of the other symptoms might be swelling, dimpling, skin irritation or discoloration. Call your doctor and schedule a visit to check the problem.

References and Other Resources:

National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc.: "What is Breast Cancer?" National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Harvard School of Public Health: "Understanding Breast Cancer," Susan G. Komen for the Cure

American Cancer Society: "How Is Breast Cancer Found?" American Cancer Society

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