You eat your veggies and take power walks. You take it easy on the margaritas, too. While healthy habits can lower your risk of breast cancer, no one can guarantee they’ll keep you free from the disease.
That’s why City of Hope experts say it’s important to regularly get checked for anything suspicious that could signal breast cancer — so any cancer can be caught early, when it’s most treatable.
City of Hope follows breast cancer screening guidelines set by the American Cancer Society and National Comprehensive Cancer Network. For most women, that means following this schedule:
In their 20s and 30s, women should get a clinical breast exam as part of a physical from their doctor at least every three years.
Women in their 20s and 30s should learn about breast self-exam and how to feel for changes in breast tissue. They should report any suspicious changes to their physician.
Women should receive regular mammography and clinical breast examination every year beginning at age 40.
Not all women are alike, though, so some women need customized screening guidelines. Women considered at high risk for breast cancer, for example, may need to begin annual screenings earlier.
These include women who have a known mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2, the so-called “breast cancer genes.” Sometimes risk assessment tools that rely on family history can indicate that women are at high risk. Women with certain genetic syndromes and those who had radiation therapy to the chest between ages 10 and 30 also may be at high risk. But only health-care professionals can determine these risk levels.
Recently released guidelines recommend that these women at high risk receive not only annual mammograms, but also magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
“For the high-risk woman, we may offer MRI as an adjunct to their mammogram,” said Cathy Cole, R.N.C., N.P., M.P.H., clinical nurse manager at the Breast Center at the Rita Cooper Finkel and J. William Finkel Women’s Center. “Mammography is still the gold standard for screening, but research has shown that MRI may be helpful in those patients who have a BRCA mutation.
“MRI may be useful to certain patients with dense breast tissue as well,” she said. “We try to customize the imaging standards for each patient depending on many factors such as previous abnormalities seen by ultrasound, or age (young women under 30).”
And mammography is getting better all the time, too. City of Hope uses digital mammography, which has been shown to uncover cancer better than traditional film mammography among women with dense breast tissue, women in their 40s and those just going through menopause.
All the technology in the world won’t help women, though, if they aren’t diligent about actually using it. “Mammography’s benefit in saving lives has been proven,” said Sally Shaw, M.D., chief of the Breast Imaging Section in City of Hope’s Division of Diagnostic Radiology and part of the Cooper Finkel Women’s Health Center. “The most important thing is to get your mammogram regularly.”