Early Detection of Breast Cancer


Breast Cancer is a common cancer in North America affecting about I in 9 women in the course of their lifetime. Although curable if detected early, breast cancer is the major cause of cancer deaths in women and is the leading cause of death in women from all causes from age 35 to 54.


Age: The risk of breast cancer increases with age and happens most often in women over 50 years of age.

Risk factors: The majority of breast cancer occur in women with no risk factors. However, the risk is higher than average if there is:

  • family history of breast cancer. The risk is highest if the relative is a mother or sister, and if the breast cancer was found before reaching menopause.
  • previous breast cancer. The risk of breast cancer developing in the remaining breast tissue is increased.
  • not bearing children or having your first baby after age 30 increases the risk slightly.


We do not know the cause of breast cancer, and there is no known way of preventing the disease. Early detection is still the key to improving the chance of cure.

It is believed that dietary fat intake may play a role based on wide differences in the cancer patterns in different parts of the world. For example, in Asia the prevalence of breast cancer is low but is rising with the changes in dietary patterns associated with improving economic conditions. Chinese who migrate to North America also show increased risk of developing breast cancer which is similar to that of the host country.

Although the association with dietary fat is not yet proven, it is wise to follow a diet which is low in fat, with plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, leaner meats, lower-fat dairy products, and food prepared with little or no fat (such as steaming or boiling, and avoiding fried or greasy foods).


Finding breast cancer early, before spread has occur-red, is vital to improving the chance of cure. There are 3 things that women can do:


A mammogram is a special X-ray of the breast which can detect some cancers (as small as 2 mm) 2 to 3 years before they can be felt as a lump. International studies have found that routine mammograms; help to find breast cancer earlier and lowered the number of deaths from breast cancer by 30%.

Routine screening mammograms are recommended for women: 0 age 50 and over: annually RI age 40 – 49: may be done annually, but the effectiveness of routine mammography in saving lives for this age group remains controversial. (Guidelines for screening mammography may vary from region to region, so discuss with your doctor.)

If an abnormality is found, further examinations which frequently ‘include a biopsy is necessary to make a definitive diagnosis. Fortunately the majority are proven not to be cancer, and many of these cancers will be detected early enough so that the chance of complete cure is over 90%.

The amount of radiation from mammography is very low (equivalent to the amount of background radiation exposure in travelling by airplane across the country) and its risk considered to be negligible.

While mammography is an effective method of detecting very small cancers, about 15% of cancers are not detectable on X-rays. That is why breast self-examination and regular breast examinations by a physician are also important.


All women 40 years of age or older should have a yearly breast examination by their doctor. (Women ages 20 to 40 years should talk to their doctor about when to get breast examinations.)


Many breast cancers are discovered by women themselves, and those who check their breasts regularly discover the cancer earlier. The main thing is to look for any change in the breasts.
Abnormal signs:

  • any new lump, which may not be painful or tender
  • any discharge or bleeding from the nipples
  • any changes in the skin of the nipples or breasts, such as dimpling, puckering, or an indrawn nipple 0 changes in the size or shape of one breast

It is important to learn BSE, and to see your doctor immediately if you discover any of these signs.

BSE involves looking and feeling for lumps and abnormal signs in the breasts using the pads of the fingers. Remember to also check under the armpits where there are lymph nodes, since cancer can spread to lymph node tissue.
All women should check their breasts once a month, a few days after the period (when the breasts are less lumpy and sore), or if no longer having periods, at the same time every month.