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Why Younger Women Should Do Breast Self-Exams

Five Reasons and Ten Questions

Why Younger Women Should Do Breast Self-Exams
Consumer Brief: This year alone some 211,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. If caught early, chances for survival are improved. Experts say women 20 and older should do breast self exams monthly along with a clinical breast exam every three years. At 40, an annual mammogram should be added at an FDA certified facility. But if the woman has a family history or other risk factors for breast cancer, she should discuss with her doctor starting the annual mammography at an earlier age.
  1. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women of all ages, except certain skin cancers. The most proven and significant risk factors are being female and getting older.
  2. Young women's cancers are generally more aggressive and result in lower survival rates - making early detection even more important.

  3. Mammography is not recommended for most women until age 40. This sometimes results in younger women being diagnosed later, and possibly lowering their chance of survival.

  4. Young women tend to have thicker breast tissue than older women, making diagnosis difficult. This makes it vitally important for younger women to become familiar with how their breasts look and feel through monthly BSE beginning by age 20.

  5. With one in seven American women at risk of developing breast cancer in her lifetime, it is never too early to establish good breast health practices.

The Interactive link at shows how to properly perform a breast self exam.

Five Questions To Ask When Scheduling Mammograms

Five Questions To Ask When Scheduling MammogramsIn recent years, the effectiveness of mammograms as a screening tool has become a heated issue. While mammography may not be perfect, it is still the best tool physicians have for detecting breast cancer in its early stages, which is crucial to positive outcomes. A woman under 40 with a family history of breast cancer or with certain risk factors should confer with her doctor about starting earlier. (Early onset of menstruation, growing older, and obesity are examples of factors that increase a person's breast cancer risk.)

The Journal of the National Cancer Institute recently published a report suggesting that doctors become more accurate at interpreting mammograms as their experience increases. Published in the March 2, 2005 issue, the study found that increasing the minimum number of mammograms a physician is required to read annually could improve his or her success at locating tumors. U.S. doctors specializing in breast cancer are required by law, under the Mammography Quality Standards Act, to read at least 960 mammograms over a two-year period to maintain their qualifications.

To increase a woman's chance of timely tumor detection, the Komen Foundation recommends five simple questions every woman should ask her health care provider when scheduling a screening mammogram.

Five Questions Every Women Needs To Ask Her Doctor about Mammograms.

  1. Is my mammogram scheduled at an FDA Certified Mammography Facility? (Note: This can also be checked at

  2. Will more than one radiologist interpret the film? (It helps to have two radiologists independently interpret every film.)

  3. How many mammograms does the lead radiologist read annually? (The FDA recommends doctors read at least 480 a year. If you have any questions about your mammogram results, you can always request the lead radiologist interpret your film.)

  4. Does this facility provide follow-up screenings (i.e., Your doctor might want you to go for an ultrasound, which is used to help radiologists evaluate some lumps that can be felt, but are hard to see on a mammogram).

  5. If the results of the mammogram are suspicious, what are my next steps?

Breast Cancer & Older Women Fast Facts

All women are at risk for breast cancer.

Breast Cancer & Older Women Fast Facts The two most significant risk factors for getting breast cancer are being female and getting older. Both the incidence and death rates from breast cancer increase with age.

A woman over age 60 is at greatest risk.

Currently, about 18 percent of breast cancer diagnoses are among women in their 40s, while about 77 percent of women with breast cancer are older than 50 when they are diagnosed.

Ninety-four percent of new cases and 96 percent of breast cancer deaths reported during 1996-2000 occurred in women ages 40 and older. For the same period, women ages 75-79 have the highest incidence rate, 499.0 cases per 100,000. For comparison sake, women ages 20-24 had the lowest incidence rate, 1.4 cases per 100,000.

Between 1975 and 2000, incidence rates of invasive breast cancer among women 40 and older increased four percent per year from 1980-1987 and stabilized thereafter, reflecting the overall incidence trends for all age groups.

Although rare, younger women can also develop breast cancer. Less than five percent of all breast cancers occur in women under age 40.

Approximately 10,000 women under the age of 40 will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and about 1,000 will be between 20-30 years of age.

While the risk of breast cancer is generally much lower for younger women, there is still a high risk for some women.

Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer under age 40 are more likely to have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation then women diagnosed when over age 40.

Women with an inherited BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation have a 35 percent to 85 percent chance of developing breast cancer during their lifetimes. Women with these inherited mutations also have an increased risk for developing ovarian cancer.

Approximately five-ten percent of breast cancer cases result from inherited mutations on breast cancer genes, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2.

Young women's cancers are generally more aggressive and result in lower survival rates.

The 5-year survival rate for women under age 40 is 83 percent.

Young women with breast cancer struggle with many issues that their post-menopausal counterparts don't face, including: the possibility of early menopause, pregnancy after diagnosis, generally more advanced cancers at diagnosis and higher mortality rates.

It is important for younger women to become familiar with how their breasts look and feel through monthly breast self-exams (BSE), beginning by age 20. The best time to perform BSE is just as your period ends.

Clinical breast exams are recommended for all women at age 20 and at least every 3 years until age 40 and every year after that.

Women under age 40 with a family history of breast cancer or other risk factors should talk with their doctor about risk assessment, when to start getting mammograms and how often to have them.

SOURCES: American Cancer Society, (
Susan G. Komen Foundation's (
Breast Cancer Facts and Figures 2003-2004 and Young Survival Coalition:

If you have any more questions about this topic or would like more information Click Here.

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