Women Today

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The case for early detection

Leading breast cancer research organization and screening advocate Susan G. Komen says  1.7 million new cases of breast cancer were diagnosed across the globe in 2012. While breast cancer still affects millions of women (and a smaller number of men), greater knowledge of the disease and earlier detection has helped to increase the chances of survival for so many people.

Having an early detection plan enables a person to be proactive about their health, says The National Breast Cancer Foundation. The National Cancer Institute found that when breast cancer is detected in the localized stage, the five-year survival rate is 98 percent.

• Get a grasp of your normal. Inspect your body frequently to get an idea of what constitutes "normal" for you. This way should something seem amiss, you can visit your doctor to have it checked out. No one knows your body better than you, and you can be your best health advocate.

• Understand signs and symptoms of breast cancer. The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. Painless, hard and irregularly shaped masses are more likely to be cancerous than others, but any mass detected should be checked by a healthcare professional. Other possible signs of breast cancer include breast swelling, skin dimpling, nipple pain, discharge other than breast milk, thickening or redness of the breast skin or nipple retraction. Sometimes swelling in the lymph nodes under the arm can be felt before a lump in the breast is present.

• Establish a self-exam schedule. Women should perform a self-examination of their breasts at least once a month. According to John Hopkins Medical Center, 40 percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump.

• Book an appointment for a clinical exam. Speak with your family practitioner or gynecologist about the best schedule for clinical breast exams based on your age and risk factors. During clinical exams your physician will check the texture of the breast tissue for any abnormalities and lumps. Doctors also can assess any suspicious areas, taking note of any abnormalities, including lumps.

• Determine a mammogram schedule. Women can work together with a healthcare provider to develop a mammogram schedule that takes their age and medical history into consideration. The American Cancer Society says MRI scans and other breast imaging procedures may be necessary for women with dense breasts or those at a high risk for breast cancer because of strong family history or gene mutations. Many experts recommend an annual mammogram starting at age 40.

• Determine if genetic testing is right for you. Susan G. Komen says some inherited gene mutations increase breast cancer risk. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are the best-known genes linked to breast cancer. Women who have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation are at a greater risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer than those who do not have such mutations. Testing may be recommended for people at very high risk.