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What is considered “early detection” of breast cancer?

Early detection is finding a breast cancer before symptoms actually occur. This could be by finding it on a mammogram before actually feeling a lump in the breast, or by finding a small lump before it becomes a big lump. Early detection can sometimes allow for less aggressive treatments and improved outcomes.

Early detection generally means detecting a breast cancer when the chances for cure are high and the need for chemotherapy and mastectomy are low. Early detection usually implies that the cancer is detected before it invades (i.e. ductal carcinoma in situ or an invasive tumor less than ¾ inch (20mm) in diameter, with negative lymph nodes).

There are two approaches to early detection that every woman should know. First women should start doing breast self-examination (BSE) by age 21 and learn to do it with confidence. The average-risk woman should start doing yearly mammograms at age 40 (younger if your mother or sister was diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 50). Women with dense breast should consider adding additional imaging.  High-risk women like Angelina Jolie should do yearly MRI in addition to their mammogram.

For average-risk women with dense breast, a screening whole-breast ultrasound is recommended. By following these guidelines a woman can maximize her chance for early detection.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.