According to the American Cancer Association, approximately 12% of women will develop breast cancer at some point in their life, making breast cancer one of the top common cancers among women, next to lung cancer. Since chances of survival are drastically increased the earlier it’s caught, it’s important to take the following steps.
When to Start Getting a Regular Mammogram
A mammogram uses x-rays to detect any breast growths even before they’re able to be seen or felt. So it’s a great tool if we want to catch cancer as early as possible.
Although past medical literature has suggested starting your yearly mammograms at ages 45 or 50, more recent guidelines from the American Cancer Society and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), suggests women could start as early as age 40. This was prompted by a recent study published in the journal Cancer, which revealed up to a 17% benefit with starting annual mammograms at age 40 versus waiting, despite the added risk that the extra radiation entails.
However, the CDC insists that starting regular screening at 40 years is a personal decision, where “women who place a higher value on the potential benefit than the potential harms may choose to begin biennial screening between the ages of 40 and 49 years” (CDC).
If breast cancer runs in your family, it may be especially worth discussing with your doctor about starting mammograms at age 40. Again, the sooner it’s caught, the better.
You can begin screening yourself for breast cancer as early as you wish. Experts say around age 20 is when women should start self-screening. Whenever you’re standing in front of your mirror, check if your breasts are the same size, color, and shape as you remember from your last self-screening. Do this first with your arms at your sides, then with your arms raised above your head.
Things to look out for:
If you notice these, or any other changes, then contact your doctor.
Next, feel for any changes. With your fingertips flat, gently press against each breast in a circular pattern, making sure to feel the entire breasts. With one arm raised, use your opposite hand to feel in the same manner. Be sure to cover the entire area, as well as the surrounding tissue.
Again, since breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women, it’s worth taking the time to regularly screen yourself and to start mammography at least by the ages of 40 to 50.
The most important thing is to know your body. The more aware of and better acquainted you are with your body, the easier it will be to notice any changes. As the Greek philosopher Socrates once said, “Know thyself.” He was probably speaking about knowing your mind, but knowing thy physical shelf is equally as important. Have this conversation with the women (and men) in your life and make sure they are self-screening too!