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Breast self-exams still important for early detection of cancer


September 27, 2018

One in every eight women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer.

Recently, however, there have been mixed messages coming from various sources about when women should start breast cancer screenings, how often they should be done, and more. From the frequency of breast self-exams to insurance coverage concerns, some women have backed off because of a lack of consistent advice.

Susan Brake, manager of Kettering Breast Evaluation Centers, said that the center continues to recommend and follow the guidelines set by the American College of Radiology.

“Following the American College of Radiology guidelines, beginning at age 40, we recommend that women have a yearly mammogram, particularly if there is a family history of breast cancer or a genetic predisposition for the disease,” Brake said. “For women of higher risk, they may begin the screenings at a younger age, and we refer back to the physicians to make that determination.”

With 13 breast imaging centers throughout southwest Ohio, Kettering Health Network provides screening and diagnostic mammograms, ultrasound tests, preoperative localizations, and bone density testing. The tools used at Kettering Breast Evaluation Centers to diagnose and treat breast cancer are the most advanced to date. Genetic testing, for example, can help women know whether they are at a significantly higher risk for developing of cancer.

However, the simplest of all tests may also be the most effective. Monthly breast self-exams, done in the privacy of your own home, can reveal slight changes in the breast tissue that warrants a check by the doctor. According to a survey by the National Institutes of Health, 57 percent of female breast cancer survivors reported detecting their cancer by a method other than mammography, with 25 percent identifying breast self-exams as the source.

That said, the importance of yearly mammograms cannot be overemphasized. Annual screenings help detect subtle changes in the breast tissue that could be a prelude to cancer. If a patient finds something during a breast self-exam, she should contact her physician, who will do a clinical test. If needed, the next step will be a diagnostic mammogram.

Annual breast exams provide a baseline for comparison in subsequent years. Kettering Breast Evaluation Center radiologists spend a great deal of time looking back through prior mammograms to identify any changes, no matter how small. If they see anything, they will order additional views and an ultrasound to obtain a closer look at the changes and to determine whether anything warrants more testing, such as a biopsy.

Age and general health, as well as family history, play major roles in the risk factors for breast cancer. Women should be aware of these risks and how their age can affect the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of this disease.

“What some people may not realize is that there is a whole new group of women turning 40 every month, and this message about screenings is very important,” Brake said. “I try to get them to think of breast health as a three-pronged approach: the monthly breast self-exam, the screening mammogram, and a clinical exam by your physician. Together, these steps can help save lives.”

Kettering Breast Evaluation Centers are located in Beavercreek, Centerville, Eaton, Hamilton, Huber Heights, Kettering, Preble, Miamisburg, and Xenia. Call 1-800-373-2160 or visit ketteringhealth.org/breasthealth today to schedule your mammogram appointment.