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Nothing Shall Be Impossible

Breast Cancer Screening: Early detection for all ages

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – May 14, 2013 -- With the exception of non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer experienced by women in the United States. It also is one of the leading causes of cancer death among women.

With breast cancer in the national spotlight this week as the world learned that actress Angelina Jolie underwent a preventative double mastectomy to avoid possible breast cancer, it's important that all women be aware of their risk and talk to their doctor about breast cancer screening (tests and exams used to find a disease in people without any symptoms). When breast cancer is detected early, there are more treatment options available and a much better chance of survival. 

“Most breast cancer patients are diagnosed in their 50s or older, but I’ve treated patients in their 20s and 30s, as well,” Dr. Laura Lawson, a physician with Tennessee Breast Specialists, said. “Women of all ages can take charge of their health by learning about early detection.” 

Dr. Lawson suggests following these guidelines for breast cancer screening:    

  • Have a clinical breast exam: Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam at least every three years as part of a routine check-up with a health professional. Starting at age 40, all women should have a clinical breast exam every year.   
  • Talk to your doctor: Women with a family history of breast cancer or other risk factors should talk to their doctor about their risk. This discussion is important because a woman who has a high risk of developing breast cancer should consider having mammograms and possibly MRIs prior to age 40, and she may be a candidate for genetic testing. 
  • Be aware of changes in your breasts: Conducting routine breast self exams is optional, but women of all ages need to be familiar with their breasts. Knowing how your breasts normally look and feel will help you detect any changes. 

If you do notice changes, report these to your health care provider. Warning signs of breast cancer include a lump or hard knot inside the breast; swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast; a change in the size or shape of the breast; dimpling or puckering of the skin; an itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple; pulling in of the nipple of other parts of the breast; nipple discharge that starts suddenly; or new pain in one spot that does not go away.  

  • Have regular mammograms: The American Cancer Society recommends that women start having yearly mammograms at age 40. A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast that can detect breast cancer early, before women start having symptoms. Women with a high risk of breast cancer may need imaging prior to age 40.      
  • Consider an MRI: Women with a high risk of breast cancer may need to have a yearly MRI in addition to their yearly mammogram, starting before age 40. An MRI is a sensitive test that may detect cancers missed by a mammogram. However, it is more likely to find something that later turns out not to be cancer, which leads to unneeded tests and/or biopsies. Therefore, it is not recommended for women with an average risk of breast cancer. 

Breast cancer screening and early detection saves thousands of lives each year, so Dr. Lawson urges women not to put off getting a check-up. 

“Women lead such busy lives, sometimes it’s hard to make time for ourselves,” she said. “But taking care of your health is so important. It’s actually one of the best things you can do for your family.” 

For more information about Saint Thomas Health, please visit www.sths.com.  

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