Breast cancer that is detected and treated in its earliest stages can be cured over 90% of the time. The primary early detection tools are breast self-exams, clinical breast exams, and mammograms.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that:
- Women age 20 and older consider doing a breast self-exam every month
- Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam by a health care professional as part of their regular physical at least every three years
- Women age 40 and over should have a yearly mammogram
The medical community recognizes the value of mammography in breast cancer screening, but there is not universal consensus on how often it should be done or when it should be started. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force updated its recommendations on the use of these screening methods in November of 2009. Based on their scientific review, they no longer recommend screening mammograms for women under the age of 50 and they recommend routine mammography every 2 years for women ages 50-74.
In July 2011, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) issued new breast cancer screening guidelines that recommend mammography screening be offered annually to women starting at age 40. This replaces their previous recommendations for mammograms every one to two years starting at age 40 and annually beginning at age 50.
Women should work with their doctors to assess their risk of developing breast cancer and to determine how often screening should be done.
Women with certain risk factors may be advised to begin screening at an earlier age and may be advised to be screened more frequently, with additional testing such as imaging scans.
For more information on self breast exams, go to the American Cancer Society web site.