Taking Charge of Your Breast Health

Breast cancer develops over time and can be present before the tumor can be detected by a physical exam. Establishing a pattern of annual mammography, ongoing physical exams by your physician and being aware of any changes in your breast is the best way to take an active role in maintaining good breast health.

Taking Charge of Your Health - Tips for Performing a Breast Self-Exam

By knowing how your breasts normally look and feel and reporting any changes to a health-care professional, you can take charge of your health.

Breast Self-Exam (BSE)

Take matters into your own hands by conducting regular, monthly breast self-exams to detect early breast cancer. The best time to examine your breasts is when the breasts are not tender or swollen. It's also a good idea to have your BSE technique reviewed during periodic health exams. Women with breast implants also can do BSE. Just ask the surgeon to identify the edges of the implant so that you know what you're feeling.

• In the Shower: Using the pads of the tips of your fingers, gently press and feel around the entire breast in a circular pattern moving from the outside to the center. Check both breasts and armpit area for any lump, thickening or hardened knot.

• In Front of a Mirror: Stand in front of a mirror with your hands pressed firmly down on your hips. Look at your breasts for any changes of size, shape, contour or dimpling, or redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin.

• Lying Down: Lie down on your back and place a pillow under your right shoulder and put your right arm above your head. When you lie down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall and is as thin as possible, making it easier to feel all the breast tissue. Reach over with your left hand and gently press the pads of your fingers around your right breast, moving in small circular motions. Use light, medium and firm pressure along the entire breast and armpit area. Repeat these steps for your left breast.

What is a Mammogram?

A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray of the breast. Mammography is the primary imaging tool used to detect breast cancer that cannot be felt during regular breast examinations, especially cancers too small for even the most experienced physicians to identify. A mammogram may detect a breast cancer many years before it is physically detected.

When Should You Have A Mammogram?

The current recommendations from the American Cancer Society are as follows:

  • Yearly mammograms at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health
  • Breast exam about every 3 years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and over
  • All women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and should report ANY breast change promptly to their doctor or nurse.
  • Some women – because of their family history, a genetic tendency or certain other factors – should be screened with MRI in addition to mammograms. The number of women who fall into this category is very small.

For more information about mammography, visit the online Health Library at healthlibrary.barnabashealth.org.

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