Did you know that catching breast cancer early doubles your five-year survival rate? As we observe Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s an excellent time to remind patients about the importance of early detection. Two of our most vital tools are clinical breast exams and mammograms. But there’s often confusion around mammograms. How early do you need one–and how often should you schedule? Patients also experience barriers to care: they may not know how to get a referral or make an appointment. Fortunately, your primary care provider can help.
What Do I Need to Know About Breast Cancer?
Cancer is abnormal cell growth that creates a tissue mass called a tumor. When malignant tumors grow in the breast, that’s breast cancer. If not caught early, breast cancer can metastasize to other areas of the body. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, 1 in 8 US women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Nearly 300,000 women and 2,800 men will be diagnosed in 2023. Sadly, more than 40,000 US women are projected to die of breast cancer this year. It’s the second leading cause of cancer death in US women, after lung cancer. According to NBCF, the average age of diagnosis is 62. However, 9 percent of cases are diagnosed in women 45 or younger.
How Can I Catch Breast Cancer Early?
Death rates from breast cancer are falling, primarily because of improved early detection efforts. When you catch it early while still in the localized phase (before metastasizing), the 5-year survival rate is 99 percent, according to NBCF. Early detection is essential to increasing survival rates. There are three crucial strategies for catching breast cancer early:
- Monthly breast self-exams
- Clinical breast exams in your provider’s office
A clinical breast exam is performed by a healthcare provider trained to look for warning signs and abnormalities. Your provider checks your breasts’ appearance and manually checks for lumps in the breasts, collarbones and underarm areas.
A mammogram is an x-ray that allows specialists to check breast tissue for abnormalities. Mammograms can detect lumps before you or your provider can feel them. If the results are abnormal, you’ll schedule additional tests, including an ultrasound or an MRI. Mammograms are usually performed at hospitals or radiology centers.
When Should I Start Getting Mammograms?
Women at low or average risk should start scheduling mammograms at age 40. However, if you have a mother, sister, or daughter with a breast cancer diagnosis, you are twice as likely to develop it. If you have a high risk of breast cancer, your healthcare provider may recommend scheduling your first mammogram earlier.
How Often Should I Get a Mammogram?
NBCF recommends a clinical breast exam yearly (with your primary care provider or gynecologist) and a mammogram every one or two years after age 40 for low-risk women. If you are at higher risk because of your family history, consult your provider for recommendations.
Can My Primary Care Provider Order a Mammogram?
Your PCP is a go-to for breast health. We can perform a clinical breast exam as part of your yearly checkup. We can also order a mammogram and help you find a facility nearby.
If you don’t have specific gynecological concerns, you can see your PCP for routine tests like PAP smears, STD testing, and breast exams. Many patients feel more comfortable getting basic care from a provider they know and trust. At Comprehensive Primary Care, we understand that scheduling a mammogram can be intimidating, especially the first time. Our providers are a valuable resource in helping you prepare for this essential annual test and provide information to address your fears or concerns. We can also help with many other areas of breast and reproductive health. If you’re 40 or older – or at high risk for breast cancer – schedule an appointment with one of our providers. Early detection saves lives, and our team can help you get the ball rolling.