A few months ago, we asked our friends on Facebook this question:
If you were diagnosed with breast cancer, how did you first discover it? Was it through a routine screening, breast self-exam, or something else?
One hundred and seven women responded — thank you, friends! We found the responses compelling, and want to share them with you:
- 53 breast cancers (49.5%) were first detected by routine screening mammograms; of these, 5 were found on the women’s first mammogram
- 43 (40.2%) were first detected by the woman herself; these were split almost 50/50 between finding a lump during a regular breast self-exam (BSE) and finding a lump or abnormality “unintentionally” — for example after feeling a pain, feeling a lump while brushing off her shirt, or seeing a dimple
- 5 (4.7%) were first detected by a primary physician
- 4 (3.7%) were detected by a test other than mammography — ultrasound, MRI, or needle aspiration of a cyst
- 2 (1.9%) were brought to the women’s attention by their dog sniffing or nosing at the area
Not many of the women whose cancer was found by mammogram reported their age at diagnosis, but a few did:
- under 40 years old: 1 woman
- between 40 and 50: 3 women
- over 50 years old: 3 women
Breastcancer.org has been a vocal supporter of women starting annual screening mammograms at age 40. In 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended screening guidelines be changed to start annual mammograms at age 50. The screening guidelines were not changed, but the costs and benefits of screening mammograms before age 50 are still being studied regularly.
Breastcancer.org also believes that breast self-exam is a useful screening method (as shown in the numbers above, we’d guess our friends do, too). The more you examine your breasts, the more familiar you will be with how they feel — and if something changes, it will be more obvious to you. There has been some debate over how useful BSE is, and in 2008 new guidelines came out recommending that women not perform BSEs. However, Breastcancer.org’s president and founder Marisa Weiss, M.D. says, “This kind of flawed advice truly disempowers women by suggesting that they need not take proactive steps in examining themselves for signs that something may be wrong. This is so important to me because at Breastcancer.org we’re all about empowering patients, and we explicitly recommend breast self-exams.”
And those dogs? There are many anecdotal stories that dogs (and other animals) have paid particular attention to a person or to a spot on their person’s bodies, and the person, upon examination, has been found to have cancer. At the University of Pennsylvania, different schools and departments, including the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at the Perelman School of Medicine, are working together, along with Monell Chemical Senses Center, in hopes of developing a screening test for early-stage ovarian cancer using dogs (the project is funded by the Kaleidescope of Hope Ovarian Cancer Foundation). We hope those dogs our Facebook friends credit with detecting their cancers got lots of extra treats and scratches!