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Home > Understanding Breast Cancer > Risk Factors and Prevention > FAQ

  


FAQ


What are the basic breast health steps?
Susan G. Komen for the Cure recommends the following screening guidelines:

  • Talk to your family to learn about your family health history
  • Talk to your doctor about your personal risk of breast cancer
  • Ask your doctor which screening tests are right for you if you are at a higher risk
  • Have a mammogram every year starting at age 40 if you are at average risk
  • Have a clinical breast exam at least every 3 years starting at 20, and every year starting at 40
  • Know how your breasts look and feel and report changes to your health care provider right away
  • Make healthy lifestyle choices that may reduce your risk of breast cancer.


What is a clinical breast exam (CBE)?
A clinical breast exam is performed by a healthcare provider. It includes visual examination and palpation (feeling) of the entire breast and underarm area, and is performed in both sitting and lying down positions.


How often should I get a CBE?
You should get a CBE by a health care provider at least every three years beginning at age 20 and yearly after age 40.


What is a mammogram?
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. This is the best screening tool widely available to detect breast cancer early.


How often should I get a mammogram?
Starting at the age of 40, women should have annual screening mammograms. Women under age 40 with a family history of breast cancer and other concerns about their personal risk should consult with a health care provider about risk assessment and when to begin screening mammography.


What is an ultrasound and when is it recommended?
Ultrasound is commonly used with pregnant women to look at a developing baby. When used on the breast, it can distinguish between different types of lumps, such as liquid-filled cysts and solid masses. Doctors use ultrasound to find out the size, shape, texture and density of a breast lump. An ultrasound is safe and painless, and uses no radiation.


Why are mammograms not recommended for women under 40?
Mammography is a very effective breast cancer screening tool overall. However, it may be more effective at detecting tumors in older women than in younger women. Images on mammograms appear in gradations of black, gray and white, depending on the density of the tissue. Bone shows up as white; fat appears dark gray and cancerous tumors appear a lighter shade of gray or white.

Unfortunately, dense normal breast tissue can also appear light gray on a mammogram, which can make mammograms harder to interpret in younger women, since they tend to have denser breasts. After menopause, though, breast density usually begins to decrease, making the mammograms of older women easier to read.


Where can I get a free or low-cost mammogram?
Contact your local Komen Affiliate, Health Department, Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Prevention (BCCCP) Program, YWCA's Encore Plus Program and the American Cancer Society.


Does the radiation from a mammogram cause cancer?
Today, mammography has little radiation risk. The amount of radiation that is used in mammography has been reduced greatly and is considered to be safe for women of the appropriate age.


How effective are mammograms?
Mammography does a good job of finding breast cancer, especially among women ages 50 and older. However, it is most accurate when combined with a clinical breast exam. Among women ages 50 and older, between six and 27 percent of cancers may be missed with mammography alone, depending on a variety of factors, including breast density. When mammography is combined with clinical breast exam, about four percent more cancers are found than with mammography alone. This improvement is even greater among women with dense breast tissue.


What are calcifications?
Calcifications are deposits of calcium that appear on a mammogram. In older women especially, calcium may leave the bones and appear in other parts of the body, such as the joints or breasts. But, clusters of tiny calcifications (microcalcifications) can be indications of precancer or cancer. Microcalcifications usually form as small, tight clusters in the ducts that can be seen on a mammogram. Although they are not themselves dangerous, they can be a warning sign of cancer and lead a doctor to perform follow-up tests to determine whether the area is cancerous or not.