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Breast Cancer Early Detection: What Every Woman Needs to Know

By HERWriter
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The best way to fight breast cancer is to have an early detection plan that helps you detect the disease in its early stages. Early detection significantly increases your chances of surviving breast cancer. There are steps you can take to detect breast cancer early when it is most treatable. Some experts recommend an early detection plan to help remind you to schedule mammograms, clinical breast exams (CBEs) and self breast exams.

The most important screening test for breast cancer is the mammogram. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. It can detect breast cancer up to two years before the tumor can be felt by you or your doctor. Women age 40 or older who are at average risk of breast cancer should have a mammogram once a year. Women at high risk should have yearly mammograms along with an MRI starting at age 30.

Here are some tips for a better mammogram:
• Look for an FDA certificate. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issues a certificate to all mammography centers that meet high professional standards of safety and quality
• Get regular mammograms. Work with your doctor to set up a schedule that is right for your age and situation
• Follow up on your test results. Don’t assume your results were normal. Call your doctor’s office to confirm
• Try to have your mammogram at the same mammography center each year. This way, your results can be compared from year to year

During a clinical breast exam, your doctor examines your breasts and the surrounding area for any possible signs of breast cancer. Your doctor checks for changes in the size or shape of your breasts, skin changes, including rashes, dimpling or redness, other abnormal changes, such as lumps or discharge from the nipple. Women in their 20s or 30s should have a CBE about every three years as part of a general health exam. Women over 40 should have a CBE once a year.

It is a good idea to get in the habit of doing monthly self-exams starting at age 20. Examining yourself on a regular basis lets you become familiar with your breasts so you will notice any changes that may occur. Breast self-exams should not replace regular mammograms and clinical breast exams. To find out how to perform a breast self exam, ask your doctor.

Also, every woman should consider their personal risk factors when preparing their early detection plan. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has developed a breast cancer risk assessment tool http://www.cancer.gov/bcrisktool/ The Risk Calculator is an interactive tool designed by scientists at NCI and the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP) to estimate a woman's risk of developing invasive breast cancer.


MC Ortega is the former publicist for the late Walter Payton and Coca-Cola. Ortega is a senior communications and messaging executive specializing in media relations, social media, program development and crisis communications. Also, Ortega is an avid traveler and international shopper. Ortega resides with her partner, Craig, dog, Fionne and extensive shoe collection. Ortega also enjoys jewelry design/production and flamenco dancing.

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In November, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) changed its guidelines on mammography, suggesting that women do not need routine screening for breast cancer until the age of 50 and that screenings every other year would be sufficient.


This makes me wonder about the value of mammograms. I know that there are women who would credit mammograms with saving their lives but it really makes me wonder how safe it really is.

Remember Marie Curie. She died of radiation poisoning. Now her case is extreme but it does state the power of radiation. Could it be that we are exposed to too much radiation?

Statistics did show that the rates of breast cancer went down when women got off of the synthetic HRT.

How safe are the mammograms really?

February 27, 2010 - 1:48pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to CharlotteSal)

every time I go for a mamogram- I ask to see their recalibration certificate- that checks their machine for leakage.(which can cause breast cancer I was told) I did walk out of one center and everyone in the room walked out w/me when they would not show me their certification. My new center has it proudly up on the wall the NYMI center in NYC- the other place was University radiology in NJ

March 2, 2010 - 9:34am
Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger

Hi Anon - Atypical cells are cells that appear abnormal. This can result from a number of factors including inflammation, infection and even aging. Atypical cells are not always cancer cells, but sometimes they are and additional tests are needed to make the determination.

There are two types of surgical biopsies.
* Incisional biopsy—cutting out a sample of a lump or suspicious area
* Excisional biopsy—cutting out all of a lump or suspicious area and an area of healthy tissue around the edges

You can learn more about this from our breast cancer reference page:


Have we answered your question? When is your appointment? Please let us know how your procedure goes and let us know if you have any additional questions. This process can be very stressful and we're here to help you.
Take care, Pat

February 26, 2010 - 5:53pm
(reply to Pat Elliott)

Thank you so much for taking the time to RSVP- though people tried to supportive- my friends, my children, my husband- I feel very alone and frightened. The radiologist assured my the needle biospy revealed an aspirated cist and I would not have to see a breast surgeon- after he got back the results - he told me to see a breast surgeon for a-typical cells. I am seeing a breast surgeon in NYC- at NY Presb- Cornell Weill - Alexander Swistel. I hope he is gentle, and competent, caring & nice. I don't love medical schools - as I don't like being examined by interns nor being an lbject of research

February 26, 2010 - 7:56pm
Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger (reply to [email protected])

Hi again. I'm familiar with NY Presbyterian which is one of the top hospitals in the country for breast specialists. I know this is hard - I've been in your shoes. It's very, very difficult for others to understand what this feels like, and hard to tell them too. I'm sorry the radiologist gave you inaccurate information as that adds to the stress. Dr. Swistel is not an intern - he's been named as one of America's top doctors and New York Magazine also named him as a top doctor. You can read his background here:

If I can make some suggestions, I'd consider preparing a list of questions to take with you to the appointment as well as having a friend go with you to take notes. When you're getting information from a doctor it can be a lot of information all at once, plus a lot of new terminology, and having a friend along to take notes can help in making sure you have all the information you need. If you don't have a friend who would want to do this, and/or if you want to locate someone to talk to, the American Cancer Society and women's breast health groups will usually be able to help pair you up with a volunteer who's interested in helping other women. We women are very strong people for many others in our family, but there are times when we also need to be strong for each other and for ourselves. I wish you the very best with everything...and please come back anytime you have more questions.
Take care, Pat

February 26, 2010 - 8:55pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Pat Elliott)

Thanks for taking the time to respond- you sound like such a special caring lady. This has been the frustrating experience- like a medical catch 22. I called the doctors recommended by radiologist- they don't take medical insurance - which by the way is Bc/BS PPO . Dr. Swistel's office - after they received the reports informed me he only does positive cancer diagnosis. I was then given another list of Doctors to call- Dr. Norma Axelrod & Dr. Rachel Welnar- have you heard of any of these physicians

March 2, 2010 - 6:31am
Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger (reply to Anonymous)

pgkgcu - Yes, it is frustrating. Most physicians don't have the time or resources to go through insurance plans and match patients with the plans. I'm not familiar with those physicians. I suggest that you Google their names and most likely you will find either hospitals or other resources that they are listed with which include their credentials and background. If that doesn't work you can contact their offices for information. You could do the same thing with any of the physicians that are listed in your plan to learn more about them. Your plan, in fact, may have a member website that includes this information.

May I also make a suggestion - your user id on this site has an email address and if that's a personal email address I would change the user name. There are, unfortunately, people who troll the web for such information and use it for inappropriate purposes.

Hope this helps, and please stay in touch. Best, Pat

March 2, 2010 - 5:57pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Pat Elliott)

thanks, I will change my user -ID

March 3, 2010 - 6:22am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Pat Elliott)

Thank you so much for taking the time to respond- I am waiting for an appointment at NY Presb. Corneill Weill w/Alexander swistel. I am very grateful for your support- my children, my friends- no more family- & my husband are trying to be very supportive but I feel very alone

February 26, 2010 - 7:37pm
EmpowHER Guest

What are a typical cells- after a needle biopsy- I was told to see a breast surgeon for a further biopsy that the one given by the radiologist?

February 26, 2010 - 1:33pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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