Ask the Expert: Why Is Breast Cancer Screening So Important?

This article is part of Breast Cancer and Black Women, a destination in our Health Divide series.

Dr. Doru Paul Ask the Expert

Design by Julie Bang / Verywell

When it comes to screening for breast cancer, the first point of detection is often the patient themselves. By learning how your breasts feel “normally,” you’re better equipped to notice lumps or bulges that require medical attention.

Below, Doru Paul, MD, PhD, an oncologist who focuses on individualizing care and improving the prognosis of cancer treatments, describes the importance of checking yourself for breast cancer, and how early detection can lead to a better prognosis. 

Verywell Health: What is the first thing someone should do to check for breast cancer?

Dr. Paul: Every single person should know their breasts and how to self-examine them. When a person takes a shower, they should know how their breasts typically feel. This can vary during menstruation, when the breast may feel a little more dense. Or, some of the time, breasts may have nodules that may come and go.

It’s important for a person to know what’s going on with their breasts, and to be vigilant about any type of changes that may appear. If they are unsure how to do this, or what feels normal to them, the simplest thing is to meet with a healthcare provider.

Editor's Note

Not all changes in the breast are due to cancer. While you may not need to worry about every lump or abnormality, it’s wise to seek out a professional medical opinion just in case. They can either help calm your nerves if you don’t have a cancer diagnosis, or direct you to the treatment necessary for your condition if you do.

Verywell Health: How can people who were assigned male at birth check for breast cancer?

Dr. Paul: Any lump that a person assigned male at birth detects in their breast area is potentially abnormal, but [due to shame or lack of knowledge], they may not think of the possibility of breast cancer.

Also, while a person assigned female at birth may experience some fibroadenomas or variations with menstruation, people assigned male at birth have no variation of menstruation or up-and-down estrogen levels in the body. So, if there is a clear asymmetry in the breast or a mass in the breast, it’s important to seek out the opinion of a healthcare provider.

Verywell Health: Can you explain why it's important to detect breast cancer early?

Dr. Paul: Most breast cancers are detected in early stages, and only approximately 6% are detected in the metastatic stage (stage 4). The vast majority are detected between stage 1 and stage 3. And when breast cancer is localized (stage 1), the five-year survival rate is up to 99%. That’s why it’s so important.

If detected early, breast cancer is curable with treatment, and, in some cases, harsh treatment like chemotherapy or radiation can also be avoided. So, it’s very important to really have early detection.

Verywell Health: When should people get officially screened for breast cancer?

Dr. Paul: The recommendation is to start mammogram screenings at age 50. For women with a family history of breast cancer, or for people that have BRCA gene mutations, it’s recommended to start ultrasounds earlier than that and have frequent consultations with a healthcare provider.

Editor's Note

Healthcare providers typically recommend women start checking their breasts for lumps in their twenties. Teen girls aren't usually recommended to perform these, unless they have histories of cancer in their families.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Breast cancer - metastatic: statistics.

  2. American Cancer Society. Survival rates for breast cancer.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breast cancer screening guidelines for women.

  4. Nemours TeensHealth. Breast exams.