Do it in the shower. Do it while getting ready for bed. Just do it once a month.
Get familiar with your breasts. Look for lumps, changes in size, shape or feel, and to see if there is any fluid.
All women should know their breasts and surrounding areas so they can be aware of changes, the American Cancer Society recommends.
“I encourage all of you to become an expert about the way your breasts look and feel so you can detect any subtle changes. After all, it’s our body, and we are the ones who have to live with whatever goes wrong with it,” said Jennie Yoon Buchanan, Medical Director of Women’s Imaging Services at Florida Hospitals.
It’s even more important that women in their 20s see a doctor for a Clinical Breast Exam every three years—and once a year after turning 40. Most doctors recommend annual mammograms for women 40 and older. Higher risk men and women should see their doctors more often.
“In every medical procedure there are risks and benefits involved. The point is to strike a balance where you get the most benefit while minimizing risk,” said Norman Lee, MD, a board-certified radiologist and Director of Breast Imaging at Phelps Memorial Hospital Center. “Expert consensus has come to the conclusion long time ago after many years of research that having a yearly mammogram will be the most optimum screening program for breast care when all the risk and benefit factors are considered.”
Dr. Lee further commented “The breast is a constantly changing organ. Just being normal one year doesn't automatically mean that it will stay the same years later. Age of the patient is actually one of the most important risk factors of getting breast cancer, probably more so than family history. It is a well established fact that breast cancer incidence increase steadily with age. That’s why screening mammography is for every woman and not just for those with family history of breast cancer. A yearly screening mammogram will allow us to catch any subtle change in the previously normal breast early enough to treat it with excellent outcome.”
Mammograms are essential to early detection and successful treatment, Dr. Lee said. "All cancer grows from a microscopic level. That's where breast imaging plays an important role besides self breast exams and physical breast exam by your doctors. Breast imaging, including mammogram, ultrasound, and MRI, can detect breast cancer much earlier than physical exam. The goal is to treat breast cancer as early as possible before it has a chance to do much damage."
In New York, experts predict 15,570 new cases of breast cancer to be diagnosed this year.
"Many breast cancers will be found in women who never felt a lump, because on average, mammography will detect about 80 to 90 percent of the breast cancers in women without symptoms,” said Kristina Thomson, executive vice president, interim, for the American Cancer Society of New York and New Jersey.
“In New York City, more than 5,100 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year,” she said.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the idea is to educate women and men and to raise money for the cure. Sometimes women are afraid to go see their doctors, but this is the time to do it. Grab a friend and make appointments.
“Appropriate breast cancer screening saves lives," said Pamela Ferrari, Director of Performance Improvement and Clinical Knowledge at the "Open Door is part of the Cancer Screening Program of the Hudson Valley so women who do not have insurance may qualify for free breast cancer screenings at Open Door.”
Also the American Cancer Society works closely with health departments and health care systems to provide free mammograms. Call 1-800-227-2345 for more information.
Developments in the medical field include diagnostic innovations, such as those found at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. The hospital is working on more early-detection procedures that are less invasive.
“Improvements in detection, as well as insights into surgical treatment options and their outcomes, have increasingly led to longer, improved lives for women with breast cancer,” said Dr. Andrew Seidman, who practices in New York and is part of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Local Editors Lanning Taliaferro and Chris McHugh contributed to this report.