Every October marks breast cancer awareness month. But, breast health is important every month of the year and for women of all ages. Screening for breast changes is an important aspect of breast health There are various national guidelines which provide recommendations for breast screening practices. It is important to discuss an individualized screening schedule with your healthcare provider. Regardless of a woman’s age, it is important she know how her breasts normally look and feel. Doing this can aid in noticing changes early. These changes could include: lumps, skin irritation, discharge, and swelling or nipple changes. In addition to women monitoring their own breast health, a clinic breast exam is recommended for women age 25-39 every 1 to 3 years. For women over age 40 an annual clinical exam is best.
Mammography is a low dose x-ray of the breasts which can help detect cancer much earlier than either self or clinic examination. The various national guidelines differ in when to start and how often to complete mammograms. Generally women will be offered an annual mammogram beginning at age 40. Some guidelines suggest mammograms every other year after age 55. It is important to discuss this with your healthcare provider. A woman’s family and personal history are also considered when determining the best individualized screening plan. In addition to examination and mammogram, breast MRI and genetic testing are modalities which may be used for screening women with higher risk.