For Women Facing a Breast Biopsy

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Appendix B: Guidelines for early detection of breast cancer

Breast cancer is most treatable when it’s found early – when it’s small and has not spread. There’s no way to predict who will develop breast cancer, so routine early detection tests (checking for breast cancer when there are no symptoms) are recommended. The following are the American Cancer Society’s recommendations for the early detection of breast cancer:

Women between ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms if they wish to do so.

Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.

Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or can continue yearly screening.

Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live at least 10 more years.

All women should be familiar with the known benefits, limitations, and potential harms linked to breast cancer screening.

Some women at high risk for breast cancer – because of their family history, a genetic tendency, or certain other factors – should be screened with MRIs along with mammograms. (The number of women who fall into this category is very small.) Talk with a health professional about your risk for breast cancer and the best screening plan for you.

Breast changes

Early breast cancer is often – but not always – painless. In its very early stages, it’s too small to find by palpating (touching) the breast. This means that you may not notice any changes. At this stage of breast cancer growth, a screening mammogram can show the changes before you have symptoms. As the tumor grows larger, you may be able to feel a lump or thickness.

Breast cancer can start anywhere in the breast. Some signs to watch for are:

  • A lump or thickening of tissue anywhere in the breast
  • Skin dimpling or puckering of the breast
  • A nipple that is pushed in (inverted) and hasn’t always been that way
  • Discharge from the nipple that comes out by itself and is not clear in color, staining your clothing or sheets
  • Any change in the shape, texture (raised, thickened skin, for example), or color of the skin

These are all changes that you may be able to see or feel yourself. But having these changes does not mean you have breast cancer. Always tell a health care provider about any changes you find right away.

Last Medical Review: 07/21/2014
Last Revised: 10/20/2015