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"How often should I have a breast cancer checkup?"


I visit my OB/GYN once a year. I'm 26 and my mother had breast cancer. I wonder should I go more. I do self tests a lot, but is that enough?


Breast cancer screening is currently a hot topic of debate amongst physicians. Because there is active debate, what I write here many not be accurate in a few years. I will start off by saying that there is no evidence that having physician breast exams more than once per year will lower your chances of getting breast cancer.

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Therefore, I think your yearly tests are probably good enough. In addition, despite what we have told women for years, there is no evidence that self breast exams provide much benefit. Right now, the recommendations are to have yearly physician breast exams, then start getting yearly mammograms starting at age 50. This is a new recommendation by the US preventative task force that is currently very controversial. If your mother developed breast cancer at a very young age (20s, 30s, 40s), then your screening will be different. If your mother was very young, then you should be screened for the BRCA gene. Women that have this gene are at very high risk for breast cancer and need to either have more intense screening, or just have breasts removed to prevent cancer. If you don't fall into this category, but your mother was still quite young when she got breast cancer, then you may benefit from having yearly breast MRIs after you turn 30. This is where the defined recommendations begin to fade away and your physicians preference is how you will get screened. Since this is complex, I suggest that you schedule an appointment with your primary care physician to discuss this issue. If your mother was very young when she developed breast cancer, then you probably need to have a consultation with a cancer geneticist to further determine your risk. This will help you determine what yearly screening tools are necessary.

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