BREAST CANCER AWARENESS: Early Detection and Diagnostic Tools

This is the first in a series of articles being published by CDI in observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October 2020).

Breast cancer cannot be prevented, but early detection provides the greatest possibility of successful treatment. Many breast cancer symptoms are invisible and can only be identified in a professional screening, but some symptoms can be caught early just by being proactive about your breast health.

Breast Self-Exams. Become familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel. Knowing this will help you identify any changes that should be reported to your health care professional. Adult women of all ages are encouraged to perform breast self-exams at least once a month.  According to Johns Hopkins Medical center, “forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.”

Changes to look for:

  • A lump or thickening, in or near the breast or in the underarm area
  • A change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Inverted nipple or discharge from nipple
  • Scaly, red, or swollen skin

Well-Woman Exams. It is recommended that women visit their family physician or gynecologist every year for a Well-Woman Exam, which includes routine examinations and pap smear as well as a brief breast exam to check for abnormalities.

Mammograms. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. It is a safe way to detect cancerous tumors and other abnormal breast conditions, and women who have screening mammograms have a lower chance of dying from breast cancer than women who do not have screening mammograms. They are an effective way to find breast cancer in its early stages when treatment is usually the most successful. Mammograms are considered safe, quick, and relatively painless.

The American Cancer Society has the following recommendations for mammograms:

  • Women ages 40-44 – make an informed choice, with a health care professional.
  • Women ages 45-54 – annually.
  • Women ages 55 and older – every two years, as long as a woman is in good health.

Breast Cancer in Men. Breast problems, including cancer, can occur in men. The risk is much lower in men than in women. The lifetime risk of getting breast cancer for U.S. men is about 1 in 833, compared to 1 in 8 for U.S. women, and less than one percent of all U.S. cases occur in men. The most common indication of breast cancer in men is a painless lump or thickening in the breast area. Other warning signs include the changes in size, shape, and skin coloration listed above for women.


In 2020, it is estimated among women in the U.S. there will be:

  • 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer (new cases of primary breast cancer, not recurrences of original breast cancers.)
  • 42,170 breast cancer deaths

In 2020 it is estimated among men in the U.S. there will be:

  • 2,620 new cases of invasive breast cancer (new cases of primary breast cancers, not recurrences of original breast cancers.)