As a woman, your lifetime risk for all cancers combined is now one in three. Cancer ranks as the second most frequent cause of death for U.S. women, after heart disease. According to the American Cancer Society, in 2014, an estimated 810,000 American women will be diagnosed with cancer, and about 275,000 women will die of some form of the disease. Yet a recent survey found that only about 50 percent of women discussed the pros of cancer screening with their doctors before making a screening decision — still far more than the 15 percent who talked with their doctors about the cons of screening.
If your doctor isn’t talking with you about cancer screening, make it your job to bring it up at your next visit. Screening tests can be as simple as at-home breast exams or as sophisticated as DNA tests for BRCA gene mutations. Methods like the ones we describe here can catch cancer at early stages and help you to make your personal best health choices.
At-Home Breast Self-Exams
What it is: A breast self-exam is a simple procedure in which you gently feel your own breasts. You may detect any lumps or other changes that could be early signs of tumors. It’s best to do the exam at the same time in your cycle each month if you are premenopausal, because breasts change during your cycle. When you’re familiar with what your breasts normally look and feel like, you’ll be able to detect changes more easily. To do a breast exam on yourself, follow three easy steps:
- Look in the mirror for any changes, like dimpling or swelling.
- Lie down, and with the pads of your fingers, check each breast and armpit for anything that feels like a new lump or knot.
- Squeeze your nipples to feel for lumps and look for any discharge.
If you find anything unusual, follow up with your healthcare provider right away.
Why you should do breast self-exams: Breast cancer will account for an estimated 29 percent of new cancer cases and 15 percent of cancer deaths among American women in 2014, according to the American Cancer Society. This means it is the second leading cause of cancer death for women. Nearly 3 million U.S. women are living with breast cancer. And according to Johns Hopkins Hospital, about 40 percent of these cancers were found by women who noticed a lump.