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Early Breast Cancer Detection Could Save Your Life—Here are Three Vital Screening Methods From a Philly Doctor

Routine screening for breast cancer is vital. “Early detection greatly increases a person’s chances of successful treatment and survival,” says Luz Ramos, M.D., Medical Director at Independence Blue Cross. Finding cancer in the early stages, before it’s had a chance to spread, also allows for less aggressive treatment and can ID potential risk factors and genetic mutations—which can help family members. Here are three ways to be proactive about your breast health.

It Starts at Home: Self-Checks

The good news is breast self-exams are free and easy to do. “No one else knows our bodies better than ourselves, and we can easily notice slight changes,” Dr. Ramos says. Breast self-exams should be done monthly—a few days after your period ends if menstruating—and Dr. Ramos says to look for the following: any changes in size or shape of a breast; lumps or thickening areas in the breast or armpit; any nipple changes (discharge, redness, scaling, etc.); skin changes such as dimpling, puckering, rashes or changes in texture or appearance; and breast pain or discomfort. If you discover any changes, make an appointment with a health care professional for a proper diagnosis. Other conditions can cause breast changes.

Mammograms Are a Must: Breast Imaging

While awareness at home is valuable, it should never replace routine breast imaging. “Mammograms can detect breast cancer before the presence of symptoms, allowing for earlier treatment and improved outcomes,” Dr. Ramos explains. New screening guidelines were issued in 2023, stating that women should begin regular mammogram screenings at age 40. Women who are high risk—those with a family history or genetic mutation, or who have dense breasts, had a prior breast cancer diagnosis, or had radiation to the chest between ages 10 and 30, for example—should start screenings at age 30, according to the American Cancer Society. Unsure of your risk level? Talk with your doctor to see when you should begin screening mammograms.

Know Your Family History: Genetic Testing

Advances in genetics have transformed how we screen for and treat breast cancer, especially for carriers of the BRCA gene mutation. So who should be screened for the mutation? According to Dr. Ramos, you should consider genetic testing if you have a history of breast cancer prior to 50; a history of triple-negative breast cancer prior to 60; a personal or family history of ovarian cancer or male breast cancer; a family history of breast cancer in multiple generations, at young ages or both breast and ovarian cancers; and/or Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry. If you have risk factors, options include increased surveillance, risk-reducing medications or surgeries, and family-planning counseling. Your medical health care provider can help determine a health plan that is right for you.

For information, news and additional healthy tips, visit ibx.com or follow Independence Blue Cross on Facebook, X, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube.