October is breast cancer awareness month. Breast cancer occurs when cells that are not normal grow in one or both of your breasts. Screening tests can help find breast cancer early. Cancer is easier to treat when it is found early.
Several screening tests can be used to check for breast cancer.
• Mammograms check for signs of cancer using X-rays. They can show tumors that are too small for you or your doctor to feel. During a mammogram, a machine squeezes your breasts to make them flatter and easier to X-ray.
• Clinical breast exams are a doctor’s exam. Your doctor carefully feels your breasts and under your arms to check for lumps or other changes.
Talk with your doctor about when you should start being tested for breast cancer. How often you get tested and the kind of tests you get will depend on your age and your risk.
The guidelines that follow are for women who have an average risk for breast cancer. If you have a higher risk for breast cancer, such as having a family history of breast cancer in multiple relatives or at a young age, your doctor may recommend different screening for you.
• Ages 20 to 39: Some experts recommend that women have a clinical breast exam every 3 years, starting at age 20. Ask your doctor how often you should have this test.
• Ages 40 and older: Talk with your doctor about how often you should have mammograms and clinical breast exams.
Treatment for breast cancer depends on what type and stage of cancer you have. You may have:
• Surgery to remove the cancer.
• Radiation. This uses high-dose X-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.
• Chemotherapy. This uses medicine to kill cancer cells.
• Hormone therapy. This uses medicines such as tamoxifen. It limits the effect of the hormone estrogen. This hormone can help some types of breast cancer cells to grow.
Having concerns about breast cancer is common. That’s why it’s important to talk with your doctor about when to start and how often to get screened for breast cancer.