Great question! Whether women should perform breast self-exam can have a confusing answer, so we are glad to help clarify!
Don't: Rely on Self-Breast Exams
Most organizations and clinicians no longer recommend routine breast self-examinations because they have not been shown to increase the detection or survival of breast cancer.
In fact, performing routine (or regular) breast self-exam has some risks. Most of the changes or lumps women find in their breasts aren't cancerous. Still, finding something suspicious in your breast can make you anxious about what it may mean.
You may endure several days of worry until you can see your doctor. If you discover a suspicious lump, you may end up having an imaging test such as a diagnostic mammogram or a breast ultrasound, or a procedure to remove breast tissue for examination (biopsy).
If it turns out the lump was noncancerous (benign), you might feel that you've undergone an invasive procedure unnecessarily.
Do: Get to Know Your Breasts
However, "breast awareness", in conjunction with regular screening, is an important tool in the detection of early breast cancer. At FPA Women's Health, we encourage all women to become familiar with their own breasts so they can notify us if they feel a change or something concerning.
Step 1: Examine Your Breasts at the Same Time Each Month
Your hormonal fluctuations throughout the month can cause changes in your breast tissue. The best time to get to know your own breasts is after your menses, when your breasts are less tender and swollen.
Step 2: Get to Know Your Anatomy
Start your own exam by looking at your breasts. Look at them from all angles even with your shoulders hunched forward to detect any puckering or changes in the skin. Then, use the pads of your fingers to feel your breasts with varying degrees of pressure.
Everyone's breasts are a little lumpy/bumpy from mammary glandular tissue, so it is important to know your own, normal anatomy. If you feel a little lumpiness on one side, that same lumpiness is usually present on the other side.
Make sure you get to know how your breasts feel in all areas, including around the nipple and all the way into your armpit. Most importantly, take your time and don't rush.
Step 3: Look for Changes in Breasts
If you notice anything unusual or that worries you, please make sure to tell your clinician right away. Any lump that is growing, changing, or becoming painful is concerning. Notify your doctor if you develop changes on your breast skin such as redness, warmth, scales, itching, or sores. Nipple discharge, especially if it is bloody, warrants further evaluation.
At FPA Women's Health, we are here to help you keep your breasts healthy. Starting at age 40, we recommend an annual breast exam by a clinician and a mammogram. Make an appointment today to discuss any questions you have about your breasts.
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