In an effort to detect breast and ovarian cancer early, many high-risk young women undergo more frequent screening, including mammograms, MRIs, ultrasounds, and blood tests.
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As high-risk women, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to adopt an early detection strategy to do our part in being proactive with our breast and ovarian health. Many early detection strategies include screening for breast and ovarian cancer—because the earlier you and your doctor detect these diseases, the easier they are to treat. If you have learned that you have a higher risk for breast and ovarian cancer, undergoing additional and more frequent screening is especially important. You and your doctor should discuss which options below make the most sense for you.
As a high-risk young woman, you should talk to your doctor about having more frequent mammograms.For average-risk women, the general recommendation is to begin getting an annual mammogram at age 40, but if you havea family history of breast cancer, screening should start 10 years before the age your youngest relative was diagnosed.
The test is simply an x-ray of the part of your breast called the soft tissue. Frequent tests can help your doctor catch any early signs of cancer.
Mammograms are read by radiologists. If available, ask for your scans to be reviewed by a mammogram specialist, a radiologist with a specific focus in this area who is best equipped to give you an accurate interpretation.
These tests can be especially helpful for young women. Young women’s breast tissue is denser, making it harder to find small breast cancers on mammograms. Your doctor might use these tests to back up your mammograms, which studies have shown to be effective.
If you have the option, have your MRI reviewed by a radiologist trained specifically in breast MRI. Some facilities may even have dedicated faculty who are accustomed to doing MRI for high-risk patients. While this is not always readily available, studies show that when these specialists review, the test will be better and have a lower false positive rate.
To check for signs of ovarian cancer, your doctor can use trans-vaginal ultrasounds. These tests can, in some cases, help find ovarian cancer earlier.
This blood test can also help your doctor catch ovarian cancer by determining if the level of CA-125, a protein produced by ovarian cancer cells, has increased.
Unfortunately, this test is not always accurate. Some non-cancerous diseases of the ovaries also increase CA-125 levels, and some ovarian cancers may not produce enough CA-125 levels to cause a positive test.
In addition to increased diagnostic screening, it’s important to be breast and ovarian self-aware. If you notice changes that don’t go away or worsen, be sure to bring them to your doctor’s attention.