You feel fine and have a clean bill of health, so why should you worry about a condition you don’t have?
It’s easy to fall into this false sense of security when you have no symptoms of breast cancer, but the fact is, the disease may be at work long before you ever see or feel the signs. That’s why it’s important to stay on top of your health, know your risk factors for certain diseases, and get screened at the appropriate times.
Dr. Farah Khan and our team at Millennium Park Medical Associates in Greenwood Village, Colorado, offer screenings for cancers of all types, including breast cancer. Here’s what you need to know about when to come in for this potentially life-saving test.
Am I at risk for breast cancer?
Breast cancer can affect anyone, even men, but some are more likely to get it than others. Knowing which factors put people at a higher risk for breast cancer and identifying which ones apply to you is an important step in determining when you should start getting screened and how often.
Being female is the top risk factor for breast cancer. About 255,000 women get breast cancer every year; only 2,300 men get it.
Other known risks for breast cancer include:
- Being 55 or older
- Having a family history of breast cancer
- Having certain genes
- Having had breast cancer in the past
- Being Caucasian
- Starting your period before age 12 and entering menopause after age 55
- Having dense breast tissue
Clearly, these risk factors are out of your control, but there are others that you can choose to avoid, such as:
- Using hormone replacement therapy
- Being overweight or obese
- Leading a sedentary life
- Eating junk food
- Exposing yourself to toxins in certain cosmetics, foods, water, plastics, and sunscreens
Information and education are critical to lowering your risk for breast cancer.
Types of breast cancer screenings
There are several types of breast cancer screening tools and techniques, but they all have the same goal: to detect cancer before it causes symptoms and decrease your chances of dying from the disease.
Which screening type you need depends on your unique situation, including your age, medical history, and symptoms.
Here are the main ways we screen for breast cancer.
You know your body best, and becoming familiar with what’s normal for you means you can easily detect when something changes. The breast self-exam is the best way to familiarize yourself with your own breasts, and it’s convenient and free.
Dr. Khan recommends that all women conduct a breast self-exam once a month and report any lumps, visual changes, or nipple discharge right away.
Clinical breast exam
Dr. Khan performs a manual breast exam here in the office during your routine women’s health visits. If you’re between the ages of 25-39, she includes this test every 1-3 years, depending on your risk factors. When you reach 40, she conducts the exam every year.
The most common breast cancer screening test is mammography. This specialized X-ray may detect tumors that are too tiny to feel with a manual exam. Dr. Khan recommends the same schedule for mammograms as she does for clinical breast exams, unless, of course, you’re considered high risk.
Although mammography is an excellent tool, and those who get them have a lower chance of dying from breast cancer than those who don’t have regular mammograms, it isn’t perfect.
Mammography exposes you to a low dose of radiation, may produce false-positive results, is less accurate if you have dense breast tissue, and may be affected by your menstrual cycle, the quality of the equipment, and the skill of the technician.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Instead of X-ray technology, MRIs use radio waves to generate a series of pictures of your breast tissue. We use this method of breast cancer screening if you’re in a high-risk category.
If any of the breast cancer screenings reveal a cause for concern, Dr. Khan may recommend a biopsy to take a sample of your breast tissue for further observation. Getting a biopsy doesn’t mean you have cancer, but it’s the best way to find out for sure whether your breast tissue contains cells that are cancerous.
To find out if you need a breast cancer screening, and if so, how often, schedule an appointment by calling our friendly staff or use our online booking tool. Give yourself the advantage of early detection.