Know Your Body: The Importance of Breast Health Exams
Fort Wayne, Indiana (June 2, 2008) —
Early detection is key to treating breast cancer. Since no detection method is 100 percent accurate, it’s important to rely on more than one screening tool. Combining regular breast self-exams, clinical breast exams and mammography can help increase your chances of finding breast cancer early, when it’s most treatable.
Everyday things like menstruation and taking birth control pills, pregnancy and menopause can all affect how your breasts look and feel. But, the more familiar you are with your breasts’ normal lumps and bumps, the easier it is to spot an unusual change. That’s why it’s a good idea to get into the habit of performing a breast self-exam once a month. The National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society recommend that women begin performing breast self-exams at age 20. The best time to check your breasts is right after your period ends each month, when your breasts are least likely to be swollen. If you no longer menstruate, choose a day that’s easy to remember (such as the first day of the month) to do your exam.
At your next appointment ask your doctor or nurse to check how you’re performing your breast self-exam to ensure you’re doing it correctly. You’ll want to look for a lump or swelling, dimpling, redness, skin irritation or thickening, nipple discharge other than breast milk or nipple inversion. Call your doctor and make an appointment right away if you have any questions or concerns about any changes in your breasts. Remember, a large majority of the breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous); however, some are cancerous and prompt treatment can lead to a better survival.
While breast self-exams are not meant to replace screening mammograms or clinical breast exams performed by your physician, it is a valuable way to become more proactive in your breast health. You can learn more about breast cancer and how to perform a monthly breast self-exam at lutheranhospital.com.
Learn more about the proper technique for performing a breast self-exam at Lutheran Hospital.
Barbara Gard R.N., M.S.N., O.C.N. is an Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist at the Lutheran Cancer Resource Center, in Fort Wayne, Ind.