Things you might not know about preventing breast cancer

Considering all the advice women historically have been given about doing monthly self-exams for breast cancer, you might be surprised to learn they’ve not been found to lower the risk of dying from breast cancer.

“There’s not been any scientific evidence to show that self-exams improve survival,” said Dr. Christine Teal, director of the Comprehensive Breast Cancer Program at The George Washington University Cancer Center and chief of breast surgery at The George Washington University Hospital. “It’s not even in the screening guidelines anymore.”

Despite that, Teal still advises her patients to do self-exams.

“I want them to examine themselves monthly because nobody knows your body better than yourself,” Teal said. “I would prefer that a patient come in with a concern, and I can figure out if it’s a problem or not.”

What about mammograms?

Advice for when to begin mammograms can vary by decades depending on family history.

“Know your family history,” Teal said. “Start mammograms at the age of 40 if you do not have a family history of breast cancer.”

If there is a family history, Teal advised starting mammograms 10 years before the age your family member was diagnosed. And, if there are multiple cases, or ovarian cancer, consider meeting with a genetic counselor.

“We want you to meet with a genetic counselor to talk about testing for a possible gene,” Teal said. “For example, with the BRCA gene, we begin doing MRIs annually at the age of 25; and we add mammograms in between the MRIs starting at the age of 30.”

According to the Susan G. Komen organization, with treatment, people with early breast cancer — that’s when the disease is contained to the breast or has only spread to the lymph nodes in the underarm area — usually have a very good prognosis. However, survival depends on each person’s diagnosis and treatment.

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