Why Breast Self Exams Are Important

Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women. In fact, one in every eight women will receive a breast cancer diagnosis in her lifetime. At Capital Women’s Care, we want to make sure you’re regularly checking your breasts for changes and lumps. The more familiar you are with the way your breasts look and feel, the better you’ll become at detecting changes.

What is a breast self exam?

A breast exam involves checking your breasts visually and by touching them to detect abnormalities that could signal breast cancer. The goal of performing breast exams yourself is to catch breast cancer early. Not all breast cancers can be detected this way. However, combining self exams with other screening tools increases your chance of catching abnormalities.

Early detection saves lives

Examining your breasts at home is a useful strategy for detecting breast cancer early, when outcomes are better and less aggressive treatment is necessary.

Cancer develops in stages. As cancer progresses, it spreads to other parts of the body, making it more difficult to treat. Screening tools like mammograms and breast exams help catch cancer in the earlier stages when treatment is more likely to be successful.

Combination screening is essential

A mammogram is a specialized imaging device that takes X-ray images of your breasts. It’s the best way to detect breast cancer. You may assume that breast self exams aren’t important if you get your routine mammograms. You should know that although mammograms are the most effective tool for detecting breast cancer, they aren’t foolproof and can’t detect all cancers.

About 20% of breast cancers are detected with breast exams. It’s harder to detect breast cancer using a mammogram alone if you have dense breast tissue. On a mammogram, fatty breast tissue appears dark, while dense breast tissue appears white. Women with dense breasts have more dense tissue than fatty tissue.

This is important because dense tissue is more difficult to see through to detect masses like cancer. That’s why it’s important to use breast self exams along with mammograms to maximize your chances of finding cancer early.  

Make regular breast exams part of your routine

Examining your breasts is a simple, safe, and noninvasive way to take responsibility for your health. You should perform a self exam once a month and at the same time each month, because your breasts may change throughout your menstrual cycle. You may notice that they feel lumpy, swollen, or sensitive at certain parts of your cycle.

The upper part of your breast may feel different from the lower part. You’ll become familiar with how each part of your breast looks and feels. Many women have lumpy breast areas, so don’t panic if parts of your breasts feel lumpy.

You may have some lumps that remain all the time and others that appear and disappear throughout your menstrual cycle. What’s important is that you familiarize yourself with what’s normal for your breasts so that you can easily detect a potential issue when something stands out.

The best time to perform a breast exam is a few days after your period ends. If you no longer have periods, choose a day each month that’s easy for you to remember.

When to see your doctor

Come in to see one of our doctors if you find a new lump that changes in shape or size or if you notice dimpling, puckering, or changes in breast texture. If you’re between 45 and 54, schedule a mammogram screening once a year, and at least once every year if you’re 55 or over. If you have dense breast tissue, ask about additional screening tools, such as ultrasound.

Taking an active role in your breast health and working with a qualified provider is a major component of breast cancer prevention and early detection. To schedule a screening or discuss concerns about your breast health, call our office or book online today to schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified OB/GYNs.

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