ZocdocAnswersHow is breast cancer diagnosed?

Question

How is breast cancer diagnosed?

Do self exams really work? Is a mammogram the only real way to check? I am an 18 year old woman.

Answer

Breast cancer is a common problem which can have devastating consequences. As such, there is a lot of research, time and effort determining the best way to catch breast cancer early. Breast cancer screening -- or looking for breast cancer before symptoms -- is a hotly debated issue. Mammograms have a proven benefit. We know that women who have mammograms starting at age 50 have a benefit of detecting cancer early. There is some debate about how often to have the mammogram (every year or every other year). There is also some debate if starting at age 40 or 50 is best (but many people will start at 40). Regardless, this is a great study that works. Self exams are a complicated issue. We know that people who do self exams don't necessarily (in large trials) have a benefit. For every early lump that is detected, there are as many false lumps that are detected. The problem with detecting these false lumps is that it forces people to get unnecessary biopsies and procedures. Overall, most doctors do not recommend self breast exams. I do encourage all my patients to call me if there are new lumps that they notice -- but the routine process of looking for them is not recommended. Mammograms work. Talk to your doctor for more information.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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