Breast Cancer: Age, Methods… Answers to Your Questions about Screening

Every year, Operation Pink October raises awareness about breast cancer screening. When to do a mammogram? How often to see a doctor? We take stock.

With an average of 54,000 new cases each year and 11,900 deaths, breast cancer is the most common female cancer in France.

It can affect any woman, sometimes men (1%), and at any age, although “less than 10% of breast cancers occur before the age of 40”, according to data from the League Against.

So, in this month of Pink October, a national campaign aimed at raising awareness of breast cancer screening and raising funds for research, here are some answers to the questions you may be asking yourself.

How often should a doctor be consulted?

The first rule to follow to protect yourself from cancer (including other types of cancer) is to be followed by a health professional: a general practitioner, a gynaecologist or a midwife.

As for the frequency of visits, it varies according to the age of the women: before the age of 50, they are rarely concerned by screening (read below).

Beyond this age, “for better follow-up, we advise them to be examined once a year “, explains Emmanuel Ricard, delegate for the prevention and promotion of screenings with the League against cancer.

During this clinical examination, the doctor performs palpation to check for any symptoms. “It can be a lump, pain in the breasts, nipple deformation, but also an orange peel effect (such as deep, sunken points), glands in the armpit, collarbone or even a discharge. by the nipple”, explains Emmanuel Ricard.

Do-it-yourself examination, is it really reliable? 

Yes and no. Before embarking on the self-examination, it is preferable “to let the doctor do a palpation so that he can show the person how to do it”.

Because this process cannot be invented: there is a way of doing things, different gestures to be applied “according to the size of the breasts”.

By learning it from a doctor, the person can, if necessary, be corrected. It opens a dialogue: talking about it is also knowing if we are doing well, if we are pressing in the right place.

Emmanuel Ricard – Prevention delegate with the Cancer League

In addition to this follow-up, women can turn to associations or even applications. In October 2020, the Keep a breast association created one to educate women about breast self-examination free of charge.

At what age should you have your first mammogram?

If palpation is to be done from an early age, mammograms (which are breast X-rays taken in a radiology office or in the radiology department of a clinic or hospital), do not intervene before 50 years. “We estimate the risk-benefit from 50 to 74 years, notes Emmanuel Ricard, because there are more cancers after menopause. That does not mean that after age 74 you should stop getting tested, but we consider that there is no point in “bothering” people if they have no risk factors. »

Because it should be noted that breast X-rays are not really pleasant: during this examination, the breast is indeed spread out and compressed between two plates for a few seconds.

Especially since doing a mammogram is, paradoxically, not without risk to health, since the body is exposed to low doses of X-rays.

Radiation can be a risk factor for cancer. A study has shown it: we increased the number of mammograms in some women, and in the end, we found that they were developing more cancers.

A mammogram every two years is therefore recommended from the age of 50 or earlier on an individual basis when a woman presents particular risk factors (particularly personal and family history).

I have a family history, should I be monitored more?

Above all, it is imperative to inform your doctor, gynaecologist or midwife, who will note this information in the medical file.

Then, “specialised tests, blood tests with genetic index, are to be done if the person has in his family – his mother, his sister, his daughter, his grandmother, his aunt, his niece – cases of cancer of the breast, but also of the ovary and the pancreas”, adds Emmanuel Ricard.

As for the medical follow-up, it remains the same (one visit per year), unless otherwise indicated by the doctor.