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Early Detection Saves Lives

Early Detection Saves Lives

Written by Anita Minghini, MD, Valley Health Breast Center


Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women, with about one in eight women developing the disease in her lifetime. Thanks to improvements in early detection, the female breast cancer death rate declined by 38% from its peak in 1989 to 2014, but breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women.

Symptoms & Risk Factors:

The most common symptom of breast cancer is a lump or mass in the breast. Less common symptoms include other persistent changes to the breast such as thickening, swelling, distortion, tenderness, skin irritation, redness, scaliness and nipple abnormalities.

Many breast cancer risk factors influence lifetime exposure of breast tissue to hormones. Potentially modifiable factors associated with increased breast cancer risk include weight gain after the age of 18 and/or being overweight or obese (for postmenopausal breast cancer), postmenopausal hormone use (combined estrogen and progestin), physical inactivity and alcohol consumption.

Factors associated with increased breast cancer risk which cannot be changed include older age; a personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer; inherited mutations in BRCA1, BRCA2 or other breast cancer susceptibility genes; certain benign breast conditions; and high breast tissue density.


Early diagnosis is one of the most important factors in treating breast cancer, before it can be felt and before it has spread outside of the breast. Mammography, a low-dose x-ray test to examine the tissue that makes up the breast, allows most cancers to be detected in the early stages. For women of average risk of breast cancer, recently updated American Cancer Society screening guidelines recommend that those 40 to 44 years of age have the option to begin annual mammography, those ages 45 to 54 should have annual mammography, and those 55 years of age and older may transition to mammography every two years or continue annual mammography.

For some women at high risk of breast cancer, annual breast MRI is recommended in addition to mammography, typically starting at age 30.

Early detection saves lives. Please talk with your doctor or healthcare provider about your personal breast cancer risk and prevention strategy including regular breast exams and mammograms. Remember to report any breast lump or change to your doctor. If it’s time for your regular mammogram, schedule it today!

Reference: American Cancer Society “Cancer Facts & Figures 2017”