The Hard Truths about Breast Exams

woman physician with woman patient

About one in eight women develop invasive breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. Over 250,000 new cases will be diagnosed in women this year, according to the American Cancer Society.

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women. Many women with breast cancer don’t show any symptoms, so breast cancer screening is the best chance of catching the disease early when it’s the most easily treated.

What can happen if you don’t get a yearly mammogram?

The X-ray can detect changes in your breasts, including lumps, tumors, or white spots called calcifications. The presence of these changes could be signs of breast cancer.

If breast cancer is detected early, it’s more likely to be small and localized (meaning that it hasn’t spread). At this stage, it’s easier to fully treat.

The American Cancer Society recommends the following schedule for women who are at average risk of getting breast cancer:

  • Age 40 to 45 – start yearly mammograms if you’d like to
  • Age 45 to 54 – recommended yearly
  • Age 55 and older – every other year or every year

Women who are at higher risk of developing breast cancer include those with a personal or strong family history of the disease or women who have a genetic mutation (such as the BRCA gene) that increases their risk. These women should get a mammogram every year, usually starting at age 30. They should also get a yearly MRI, which takes detailed pictures of the inside of the breast.

Are breast self-exams still recommended?

The American Cancer Society considers a breast self-exam to be an optional screening tool. It’s most often successful when used in combination with regular doctor exams and mammograms.

Although its value has been debated, it may be able to help you notice changes in your breasts that warrant further evaluation.

How should you conduct a breast self-exam?

Step 1

Look in the mirror with your arms down against your side. Check the size, shape, and color of your breasts and make sure your nipples haven’t changed position or started to push inward. Also check your skin for any swelling, redness, or dimpling.

Step 2

Repeat step 1 with your arms raised above your head.

Step 3

Look for evidence of any fluid coming from one or both nipples.

Step 4

Lie down and use your opposite hand to examine each breast. Put your fingers together, and while keeping them flat, move in a circular pattern to examine each breast.

Step 5

Repeat step 4 while standing (in the shower if you’d prefer) or sitting.

If you have any concerns about changes in your breasts, personal risk factors, or if you need a referral for a mammogram or other screening by Dr. Motalgh, make an appointment with us today.

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