While some statistics can be sobering — breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States and it is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer — the good news is that breast cancer death rates have been decreasing.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) reports this is probably the result of finding the cancer earlier and having better treatment. As of 2011, there are more than 2½ million breast cancer survivors in the United States.
On its website, the ACS, www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer, details different types of breast cancer and what you can do to screen for them. Among the tips:
Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam as part of a regular exam by a health expert at least every three years. After age 40, women should have an annual breast exam.
Breast self-exams should start by women in their 20s, with a doctor or nurse checking the accuracy of the method. Women should report any changes in how their breasts look or feel to a health expert right away. Regular self-exams allow you to more easily notice changes.
Women 40 and older should have a screening mammogram every year. While mammograms can miss some cancers, they are still a very good way to find breast cancer.
See a doctor right away for a lump or swelling, skin irritation or dimpling, nipple pain or the nipple turning inward, redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin, or a discharge other than breast milk. Most of the time these breast changes are not cancer.
Women at high risk should get an MRI and a mammogram every year.
The ACS advocates lowering your risk of breast cancer by changing those risk factors that are under your control. Women who limit alcohol use, exercise regularly, and stay at a healthy weight have a lower risk of getting breast cancer. Women who choose to breast-feed for at least several months may also reduce their breast cancer risk. Not using hormone therapy after menopause can also help avoid raising your risk.