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Breast Cancer Detection: Self-Exams and Mammograms

Early Detection Breast CancerAn estimated one in eight women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer at some point in her life. Although breast cancer can also affect men, it is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women. In 2011, over 230,000 women and over 2,000 men were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. Roughly 39,520 American women are expected to die from breast cancer by the end of 2011.

Risk factors for breast cancer include:

  • A family history
  • Genes defects (most commonly on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes)
  • Getting your period early (before 12 years old)
  •  Being over the age of 50 and a woman
  • Drinking more than 1 or 2 glasses of alcohol daily
  • Never giving birth
  • Having children after 30 years old
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Receiving radiation therapy as a child.

The most significant risk factors of this disease are being an older woman. What’s so scary about breast cancer is that 85 percent of breast cancers occur in women who do not have a family history of it.

For all of these reasons, early detection of breast cancer is extremely important. When breast cancer is discovered early, breast cancer treatment can be far more effective and less invasive as well. The survival rate is higher when breast cancer is diagnosed and treated in the earlier stages.

Early detection of breast cancer requires a proactive attitude and multiple tactics. Making sure you’re performing routine breast exams and scheduling mammograms are the most significant ways to minimize the potential of a late diagnosis with grim implications.

Breast Self-Examination

It’s important for women to get into the habit of conducting self-examinations of their breasts, beginning in their 20s. Breast self-exams should never replace the need for mammograms. Self-examination is a tactic that should be conducted in tandem with regular mammograms.

To make sure that you’re performing your breast examination correctly, make sure that you ask your doctor or healthcare provider to show you how to perform it correctly. Because PMS can cause bloating and make your breasts thicker and larger, it’s probably a better idea to do your breast self-examinations the week after your period ends.

Performing breast self-examinations are simple. Look at your breasts in the mirror while your shoulders are pulled back, and place your arms on your hips. You need to be looking for any change in the normal appearance of your breasts.

Look For Abnormalities in Your Breasts

Any kind of unevenness, swelling or changes of shape are warning signs that something may be wrong. If you see any abnormal bulges, puckering, or dimpling in your breasts, you need to let your doctor know right away.

You should also be looking for any discharge from the nipples, especially any bloody discharge. Changes in nipple position, or unusual rashes are also potential warning signs of breast cancer. It’s important to repeat the same examination with the arms raised as well.

After you’ve examined your breasts with arms on your hips and in the raised position, lie down and examine your breasts by using the left hand to examine the right breast and the right hand for the left breast. Use two fingers and with a circular motion cover the whole breast. It’s also beneficial to conduct an exam in the shower. When your skin is wet and slick it can be easier to feel changes in breast tissue.

Contact Your Doctor if You Find Anything Unusual

When performing your breast self-examinations, you find anything unusual – like a lump – you should call your doctor’s office and schedule an appointment. Your doctor will need to check the lump to make sure that it’s not precancerous or cancerous. In many cases, lumps are benign and not cancerous. However, an ultrasound may be needed to distinguish a cyst from a tumor. Your doctor may also recommend a needle biopsy.

It’s a good idea to have your doctor examine your breasts every three years, starting in your 20s. After age 40, you need to have your breasts examined annually. Remember that your risk for breast cancer only increases the older that you get.


If you’re over forty, you should have a mammogram annually, regardless of whether you are at risk for breast cancer. Early detection is key, and mammograms are still the best way to detect breast cancer early. Even women who don’t have a genetic history of breast cancer need to be on guard. Mammograms are not one hundred percent bulletproof. But no early detection method is as effective for detecting breast cancer in its earliest stages as mammograms.

How Mammograms Work 

A mammogram is an x-ray of your breasts. The procedure takes less than an hour. It’s painful for some women, because their breasts are compressed. Others describe it as uncomfortable. However, it’s one of the best ways to detect breast cancer.

The reason mammograms are effective in early detection efforts is because they can detect tumors before they’re large enough to detect by feel. In the very early stages of breast cancer, the cancer cells leave small calcium deposits behind during the process of cell death. These tiny deposits are visible with a mammogram and can allow for very early intervention and breast cancer treatment. Other types of tumors show up with a mammogram as shadows or light spots that can tip off a doctor to the possible presence of breast cancer.

If you have a family history of breast cancer you should consult with your doctor, because it may be advisable to begin regular mammograms at a much younger age than women traditionally begin receiving them. Staying current with self-examination and scheduling regular mammograms can ensure that you stay healthy, as well as give you peace of mind.



Special Thanks to My Guest Blogger:

Derrick Cruise has been spreading breast cancer awareness throughout the blogging community for the past year. His main concerns are knowing what to look for, scheduling regular checkups, and knowing what type of breast cancer treatment is right for you.


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About the author: This blog post was written by a guest contributor. If you’d like to guest post for Hip Chick’s Guide to PMS, Pregnancy and Babies, please read my Guest Writing Policy for a guideline of what I am looking for. All guest posts need to be at least 500 words and be original to this site only.

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