Tips for Breast Cancer Screening and Early Detection

Diseases / Research

Tips for Breast Cancer Screening and Early Detection

1. If you are over 40, consider geting a mammogram. Early detection of breast cancer offers the best chance for a cure. Several groups have guidelines about screening mammograms, including the American Cancer Society, the U.S. Preventive ServicesTask Force and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Each of these groups suggests a different timeline for testing. Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, the Hutch’s clinical care partner, supports the American Cancer Society’s statement that women should have the opportunity to start yearly screening mammograms at age 40.

2. Where you go matters – choose a mammography expert. Many studies show that doctors who specialize in mammography are more accurate at interpreting the images when compared to physicians with less experience. Get your mammogram read by a doctor who specializes in reading them. The American College of Radiology offers an online search for accredited facilities and “Breast Imaging Centers of Excellence” such as the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

3. Go “tomo.” Digital breast tomosynthesis, or “3D mammography,” uses X-rays to create a stack of thin images of breast tissue that helps radiologists better see both normal breast tissue and breast cancers. SCCA offers digital breast tomosynthesis exams at all of its breast imaging locations.  


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4. Don’t put off screening because of discomfort. A mammogram should never be painful. Fear that the exam will be uncomfortable is one reason women put off scheduling a mammogram. To reduce discomfort, try to schedule the exam after your monthly period, when breast tissue is less sensitive. You may benefit by taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen before your mammogram. Above all, tell the mammography technologist about any discomfort you may be experiencing. They can work with you to make the experience more comfortable.

5. Don’t put off screening because of fear. Most abnormalities found after a mammogram are not cancer. However, in some cases you may be called back for more tests, such as additional mammography or ultrasound screening, to confirm that the area on the screening mammogram is normal. That’s why you may be asked to return for a follow-up exam.

6. Consider getting results while you wait. Particularly for your first mammogram, you may want to schedule your exam so you receive your results before you leave the imaging center. Or if you have found that you are frequently called back to your mammography center for a second scan, you can ask that your appointment at SCCA include getting results to you while you wait.

7. Know how your breasts feel normally. If you notice a change in your breasts, such as a lump or swelling, skin irritation or dimpling, talk to your health care provider.

8. Know your risk.  If you have family members who have had breast cancer, especially a mother or sister, and if they had breast cancer before reaching menopause, tell your doctor, as your own risk of cancer may be higher than average. Some women at high risk may be recommended for annual MRI in addition to a screening mammogram.

9. Try an online risk calculator or app.  The Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium, which is a research group funded by the National Cancer Institute, has a risk calculator that is available online or as an iPhone app to help women determine their chances of developing invasive breast cancer.

For more about breast cancer screening, check out this "Adam Ruins Everything" podcast with Dr. Joann Elmore of the University of Washington and Dr. Janie M. Lee, director of SCCA Breast Imaging, on "Why Mammogram Screeenings are More Complex Than We Imagined."

Fred Hutch and its clinical care partner, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), previously published a series of four tip sheets offering recommendations for women about breast cancer. Click on a link below to read.

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