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Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women, with about 1 in 8 developing invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. Most people know someone who has been impacted by breast cancer. With nearly 300,000 new cases diagnosed this year in the United States, women should prioritize their breast health.

“We’re moving away from one size fits all for breast cancer screening,” says Dona Hobart, M.D., breast surgeon and medical director of the Center for Breast Health at Carroll Hospital, a LifeBridge Health facility. “There are a variety of factors that indicate when someone should be screened.”

Dr. Hobart recommends a first mammogram at age 40 for women without a family history of breast cancer. Women with an increased risk, should start annual screenings earlier.

Factors used to determine risk include height, weight, start of menstrual cycle, onset of menopause and breast density as well as family history of breast cancer. Men with a family history should also be screened, Dr. Hobart explains.

“What I suggest is that each person get with their medical provider to look at cancer risks,” she says. “There are mathematical models they can use to determine their risks.”

Three different tests are used to evaluate breast tissue: mammography, MRI and ultrasound. For most women, an annual mammogram is sufficient. For those at high risk, providers may add an MRI screening to evaluate in more detail. The newer digital mammogram technology, called tomosynthesis, takes a three-dimensional view which lessens the need to repeat testing following a questionable result, which sometimes is just a shadow based on the type of test performed.

In addition to annual screenings, women should regularly perform self-exams, looking for changes in the breast like the way the nipple looks or feeling a lump. If anything seems different or questionable, contact your primary care provider or gynecologist.

Although the American Cancer Society is no longer recommending self-checks, Dr. Hobart suggests the practice should continue.

“The number of cancers that we find on physical examination has gone down, but it is particularly important in our younger population, in the 30-to-40-year-old range, which is commonly before people start mammograms,” she says. “Most of the cancers in that group are found on physical exams. You’ve got the most access to your breast, you’re going to know them best, so just do it and you’ll know if something changed.”

Call 410-601-WELL to schedule a mammogram or to learn more about all other services offered by LifeBridge Health, including specialty care and community events.