Finding Breast Cancer Early
Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer in women (the first is skin cancer). The older a woman is, the greater her risk. Most women who develop breast cancer have no special risk factors for the disease, so it is critical that you talk with your doctor and work out a plan that meets your needs.
Reasons to call your doctor include:
- A lump in or near your breast or under your arm
- Thick or firm tissue in or near your breast or under your arm
- A change in the size or shape of your breast
- Nipple discharge (fluid that is not breast milk)
- Nipple changes, such as a nipple that points or faces inward (inverted) into the breast
- Changes to your breast skin, areola, or nipple, such as itching, redness, scaling, dimples, or puckers
- Wanting to talk to your doctor about breast cancer screening
Keep in mind that most breast changes are not cancer. For instance, nipple discharge can be caused by birth control pills, some medicines, and infections. Or, a breast lump could be a cyst, which is a fluid-filled lump that is not cancer. Early breast cancer usually does not cause pain. Still, any breast changes or pain should be checked out by a doctor. If you notice a change in your breast, call your doctor and schedule a visit. Don’t wait until your “next checkup.”
Steps you can take to finding breast cancer early:
- Get a mammogram. It is the best way to find out if you have breast cancer. A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast. It can find breast cancer that is too small for you or your doctor to feel. Starting at age 40, women should talk with their doctor and make a decision about whether to have screening mammograms and how often to have them. Recommendations vary, but they should be at least every 2 years. Depending on factors such as family history and your general health, your doctor may recommend a mammogram more frequently. Discuss how often you need a mammogram with your doctor. If your mother or sister had breast cancer, insist that you have a mammogram. Have the mammogram done right after your period because it might be less painful and more accurate than during your period.
- Get a clinical breast exam (CBE) if you have concerns about anything you find in your breast. This is a breast exam done by your doctor or nurse. He or she will check your breasts and underarms for any lumps, nipple discharge, or other changes. Ask your doctor if you need a CBE.
- Get to know your breasts. Some women check their own breasts for changes. If you find a change, it’s important to call your doctor or nurse for a visit. Make sure to watch the change you found until you see your doctor or nurse. Although research data do not support an official recommendation that all women do breast self-exams, knowing your body is key to pointing out any concerns to your doctor.
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