Secondary prevention and early detection

Secondary prevention refers to techniques used to detect breast cancer even at its earliest stages. This includes imaging methods such as mammography screening as well as breast awareness. Europa Donna advocates for all European women to have access to nationwide population-based mammography screening programmes conducted in accordance with the European Guidelines on Breast Cancer Screening and Diagnosis developed by the European Commission Initiative on Breast Cancer (ECIBC), which are updated regularly based on the latest scientific evidence. Women between the ages of 50 and 69 should receive an invitation for mammography screening every 2 years. The European guidelines recommend screening in all women aged 45 to 74 years. For those aged 50 to 69 screening is strongly recommended every 2 years; for age 45 to 49 years, conditionally recommended every 2 to 3 years; for age 70 to 74 years, conditionally recommended every 3 years. For more on this, see the Screening and Early Detection section.

Breast awareness

While research studies indicate that breast self-examination does not reduce deaths from breast cancer, women should be familiar with their breasts starting at an early age and seek medical advice if they detect any unusual changes.

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Check for unusual changes

It is quite normal for most women to notice changes in their breasts during their monthly cycle – and they will recognize what is normal for them. It makes good sense for women to be breast aware and check their breasts periodically. They can take convenient opportunities such as bathing or dressing to become familiar with their breasts by looking at them and touching them. This will help in noticing any changes or abnormalities (usually a lump) sooner and will increase their general awareness of what is changing in their body and know what to ask their doctor to look at.

Check your breast for:

  • A change in size or contour, or position of the nipple
  • Obvious lumps or thickening, puckering or dimpling of the skin (like orange peel)
  • Veins which are more prominent than usual
  • Inflammation or rash on the breast
  • Blood or discharge from the nipple
  • New sensation – particularly if only in one breast

Women should talk to their doctor without delay if they notice anything unusual. It should be noted that 9 out of 10 lumps are harmless. The breast is often naturally lumpy as a result of normal glandular changes. Women who have a family history of breast cancer, should talk to their physician, and arrange regular and appropriate check-ups including clinical exams.