Health care providers agree that mammograms, along with clinical breast exams, are your best defense against breast cancer.

Breast cancer is the second most common form of cancer in women, after skin cancers. Experts estimate that more than 192,370 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2009. It is the second leading cause of cancer death among women, the first is lung cancer.

But there's good news: Breast cancer mortality rates are declining, while the five-year survival rate is climbing. The decline in breast cancer deaths can be attributed to a number of factors, including better treatment, medicines that help prevent breast cancer in high-risk women, an increase in early detection of problems through breast exams and mammograms, and a decrease in hormone therapy (HT) after researchers found that HT boosted breast cancer risk.

Early detection

Early detection is often the key to successfully diagnosing and treating breast cancer. For good breast health and early detection of problems, follow these guidelines:

  • The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends clinical breast exams (CBEs) at least every three years for all women in their 20s and 30s and annual CBEs for women ages 40 and older. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), however, believes there is not enough evidence to assess the value of CBEs for women ages 40 and older. Women should talk with their doctors about their personal risk factors and make a decision about whether they should have a CBE.

  • The benefits and limitations of mammography vary based on factors like age and personal risk. Experts have different recommendations for mammography. Currently, the USPSTF recommends screening every two years for women ages 50 to 74. The ACS recommends yearly screening for all women ages 40 and older. Women should talk with their doctors about their personal risk factors before making a decision about when to start getting mammograms or how often they should get them.

  • Women at known higher risk for breast cancer may need more frequent mammograms. Those at high risk should also get an MRI along with their mammogram. Women at moderately increased risk should talk with their doctor about the benefits and limitations of adding MRI screening to their mammogram screening. Yearly MRI screening is not recommended for women whose lifetime risk of breast cancer is less than 15 percent, based on risk assessment tools.

  • Women should practice a healthy lifestyle that includes eating a low-fat diet, decreasing alcohol intake, and getting regular exercise.

The ACS reports that mammography can save thousands of lives each year. Mammography, an X-ray picture of the breast, can reveal breast lumps smaller than the size of a pea. Often mammography detects malignant tumors (or cancer) two years before they can be felt by a physical exam.

Medical Reviewer: [Fincannon, Joy RN MN, Fischer, David S. MD, Godsey, Cynthia M.S., M.S.N., APRN, Kanipe, Jennifer RN, BSN, Lambert, J.G. M.D., Stump-Sutliff, Kim RN, MSN, AOCNS] Last Annual Review Date: 2010-09-09T00:00:00-06:00 Copyright: Copyright Health Ink & Vitality Communications

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On the day of your mammogram, it's important that you don't wear deodorant.