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Five important questions about breast health

Breast cancer will affect 1 in 8 Canadian women during their lifetime, but breast cancer deaths have been decreasing since the late 80s thanks to early detection and more effective treatments. Mammography is considered the gold standard for detecting breast cancer early, but it can be confusing to determine when to start and how often to get screened. Here are some questions to ask your doctor to help get greater clarity about your breast health.

Based on your personal medical history, what is your risk of breast cancer?

Your doctor can look at risk factors like a personal history of breast, ovarian, or uterine cancer, a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, child) diagnosed with breast cancer, or chest wall radiation at a young age to help gauge your risk.

When can you start breast screening?

Many women have their first mammogram at about age 40, since Alberta Health Care covers one screening mammogram per year starting at that age. However, your medical history may indicate screening should start earlier and your doctor can help determine that.

How often can you get screened?

Often a mammography is recommended every year from age 40 to 49, and every two years from age 50 to 75. But, your personal medical history or changes to your breast might cause your doctor to recommend a different interval.

Many women are reluctant to go for regular screening mammograms because they find the experience uncomfortable, but Mayfair Diagnostics has introduced technology that makes them more comfortable. It is available in our new Mahogany location, as well as our Mayfair Place and Southcentre locations.

Are there lifestyle changes that can reduce your risk?

Many of the risk factors for breast cancer are genetic, but there are lifestyle changes that can help reduce your risk. For example, your doctor may recommend changes in alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, diet, and weight to mitigate your risk.

What is your breast density?

Your breasts are made up of different types of tissue: fibroglandular (dense) tissue, and fat (not dense tissue). Dense breasts have less fatty tissue, more fibroglandular tissue, and a higher risk of cancer. Fatty tissue appears dark on a mammogram while both abnormalities and fibroglandular tissue appear white, making abnormalities harder to find. Dense breasts are quite common, but they can only be determined by a mammogram. At Mayfair Diagnostics all of our mammography machines are equipped with software that classifies breast density, which is included in reports to referring doctors. It’s important to know your breast density and discuss it with your doctor since women with dense breast tissue often benefit from regular mammograms supplemented by ultrasound.

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