Breast Cancer Review

Detecting Breast Cancer

Detecting breast cancer in its earliest forms, before it has a chance to spread, assures nearly a 100% survival rate to women with the disease. Because early detection means there is an excellent likelihood of successful treatment, women should faithfully use a three-pronged approach in taking charge of their own breast health.

The first is the monthly self-examination (called a BSE) of the breasts, performed 3 to 5 days after a menstrual period (starting at 20) or, if the woman is in menopause, performed on the same day each month. Secondly, an exam should be done by a doctor every three years until the age of 40 and then every year thereafter. The third is a screening mammogram program which, in general, should be started when a woman reaches 40 years of age and performed annually, according to the American Cancer Society.

Informing the woman’s doctor of a history of breast cancer in close relatives, like a mother or sister, is important also. There is a recommendation that these patients start their screening mammograms at an earlier age, several years before the cancer was detected in their relative. Breast ultrasound, MRI or possibly a PET scan may also be advised for detecting breast cancer in these higher risk women. The frequency of imaging techniques should be discussed with the woman’s doctor.

A woman’s genetic tendency for breast cancer can now be found out through genetic testing. However, it should be pointed out that, although this is available, there may be some negative sides to this testing. It is very expensive; and should the woman be found to have this genetic inclination, her ability to have health and life insurance may be affected. This method of detecting breast cancer may not be worth losing either type of insurance.

The most common gene abnormalities tested are the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes which reduce abnormal cell growth. Because of the large amount of research into these areas, there are now several other genes which can be studied also: the CHEK-2 gene; ATM gene, accounting for repair of damaged DNA; and the p53 gene.

Because breast cancer is the second most frequent cancer to cause death in women (following lung cancer), knowledge of the best methods for detecting breast cancer should be of high priority to women. For the record, new methods of early detection and prevention are continually being studied.


Janet Brown is a medical writer and graduate of Loyola University New Orleans. Her personal experiences with breast cancer have drawn her to her current work developing breast cancer patient education and awareness materials. She currently lives in Georgia.

Breast Cancer Resources

American Cancer Society

People Living With Cancer

United States National Library of Medicine

National Breast Cancer Foundation

Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation

Health Coverage from Health Insurance .org

WebMD Health

Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation

National Cancer Institute

Breast Cancer Research Foundation

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

Y-ME National Breast Cancer Foundation

Breastcancer.org

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Healing Well.com

Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania

Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation

Women’s Information Network Against Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Prevention.com

Cancer News On the Net

Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition

Mothers Supporting Daughters With Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Online

National Breast Cancer Coalition

Breast Cancer Fund

Breast Cancer Action

Breast Cancer Care

Breast Cancer Campaign

Cancer BACUP

Canadian Breast Cancer Network

Breast Cancer Society of Canada

Breast Cancer Action – Ottawa

Info Breast Cancer

Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation

National Breast Cancer Centre

National Breast Cancer Foundation

New South Wales Breast Cancer Institute


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