Three Steps to Early Breast Cancer Detection

October is Breast Cancer Awareness <onth, which is a great time to remind yourself why prevention and early detection are so important! According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, about 9% of new breast cancer cases are found in women under the age of 45. And with 1 in 8 women in the US having a chance of developing breast cancer, it’s so important to follow guidelines for mammograms and to stay diligent with self-exams. So just when should you go for your first mammogram? What else can you do to aid in early detection? Keep reading for more information on the three steps to early breast cancer detection.

Early Detection Step 1: Self-Exams

Breast self-exams are an important early detection tool, and it is recommended that you perform these once a month. Not only can self-exams help you find lumps or areas of concern, but they can help you become familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel. This will help you identify changes or lumps more easily.

Not sure how to perform a breast self-exam? Check out this great infographic from Northwestern Medicine. It is recommended that you start performing self-exams when you are 20 years old. Find something concerning during your self-exam. Be sure to call your doctor right away!

Early Detection Step 2: Clinical Breast Exam

Clinical breast exams occur during your annual physical with your doctor, or annual appointment with your OBGYN. This is an important early piece of the early detection puzzle, so make sure you are not skipping these appointments! These exams usually take place every three years for women between the ages of 20-39 and may occur yearly for women 40 and over. 

Early Detection Step 3: Mammograms

When should women go for their first mammogram? Well, that all depends on your family’s history of breast cancer. If you don’t have a family history of breast cancer, you should start getting mammograms annually at the age of 40. If you do have a family history of breast cancer, you should talk to your healthcare provider, because you might need to start having screeners sooner than 40. The National Breast Cancer Foundation notes that if you have a mother, daughter, or sister who has/had breast cancer, you should “begin screening 10 years before the age of diagnosis for that relative.” So, if your mom was diagnosed at 43, you should start getting annual mammograms when you are 33. 

My Mammogram Experience

Feeling apprehensive about getting your first mammogram? When I turned 40, I was filled with anxiety before my first screening. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I was extremely nervous. However, my first experience was such a positive one, and I was in and out of my appointment in 15 minutes!

Here’s what your annual mammogram experience might be like:

  • When getting ready for your appointment, it is important not to wear any deodorant, lotion, creams, etc.
  • A tech will call you back and have you change into a forward-opening shirt.
  • You’ll enter the screening room and cover any important health history.
  • If you have moles, the tech will place stickers over them to flag them on the screening.
  • Your tech will walk you through how to stand, and when to hold your breath, and will check your images as you go in case any need to be redone. I experienced two “poses” for each breast. 
  • That’s it! It’s super easy, and mammogram techs are so good at what they do. 

In my experience, I received my results through my health account and knew right away that my scans were clear. When I returned for my second mammogram, I knew what to expect, and felt no anxiety!

Breast Cancer Myths

Does carrying a phone in your bra cause breast cancer? Do bras with underwires cause breast cancer? There are plenty of breast cancer myths out there, so it is important to stay up-to-date on current recommendations. Check out answers to these two myths, plus many more here.

Elizabeth Spisich
Elizabeth lives in Jackson, Michigan, with her husband and two sons. She has worn many hats throughout the years: Elementary school teacher (so.many.apples), photographer (bride and baby wrangler), mother of two boys (more coffee, please!), and proud MSU alum (GO GREEN!). Elizabeth currently balances being a stay-at-home mom while growing her small business, Wonder and Wander - Jackson. When she's not encouraging her children to put the screens away to go outside, you can find her trying to make others laugh and doing what she can to make the world a more beautiful place.


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