How Healthy Are Your Breasts?
Pages in this Story:
- Why Your Breasts Hurt
- Culprit #1: You're about to get your period.
- Culprit #2: You've got fibrocystic breasts.
- Culprit #3: Your diet.
- Culprit #4: You're overdoing it at the gym.
- Culprit #5: Your meds.
- New Reasons to Get a Mammogram
- What to Do If You Find a Lump in Your Breast
- Straight Answers to Your Biggest Questions
New Reasons to Get a Mammogram
For the past several years, experts have debated the effectiveness of mammogram x-rays and at what age women should first get them. But research shows that this type of screening is one of the most reliable tools doctors have right now for diagnosing breast cancer. A 2003 Swedish study of more than 200,000 women found that death rates from breast cancer dropped 44 percent from 1978 to 1997, after mammography programs were introduced. "Every woman at average risk should get an annual mammogram beginning at age 40," says Larry Norton, MD, deputy physician-in-chief for Breast Cancer Programs at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. "But if your mother or your sister had breast cancer when they were 35 to 49, have a mammogram a decade earlier than the age of the one who was youngest at diagnosis." This means that if both relatives had breast cancer, and your sister was diagnosed at 55 and your mom at 45, you should start your screenings at age 35. (Mammograms before age 25 are not useful; if your relative with breast cancer was younger than 35, start your mammograms at age 25.)
Research shows that mammograms are not as reliable in younger women, whose dense breast tissue can make the x-rays difficult to read. If you're 35 or younger or have dense breasts, ask your doctor about getting an ultrasound or an MRI as well, suggests Gabriel Hortobagyi, MD, chairman of the department of Breast Medical Oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. In a 2004 Dutch study, doctors found 32 tumors in high-risk patients screened with both a mammogram and MRI -- but only 18 tumors using a mammogram alone. Another new option: digital mammography.
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