Women Can Play an Active Role in Breast Cancer Detection Each Month

Self-examinations may catch up to 40 percent of breast cancer cases 

DAYTON, Ohio (October 14, 2014) – Mammograms can detect breast cancer before a lump is ever felt, however, a significant portion of the disease is caught when a woman conducts a self-examination outside of a clinical setting, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation Off Site Icon  (NBCF).

Monthly self-breast exams help a woman become familiar with how her breasts look and feel so she can best detect any changes that might need an examination by a healthcare professional. Studies have shown that up to 25 percent of breast cancer cases originate from breast self-examinations (BSE). Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical Center found that number could be as high as 40 percent.

“Yearly mammograms remain one of the best screenings for breast cancer detection, especially in its earliest stages,” said Tiffany Hall, MD, of Premier Ob/Gyn. “However, it’s just one tool that helps reduce a woman’s risk for breast cancer or her ability to catch it early. A breast self-exam enables a woman to remain vigilant all year long between mammograms.”

There are many ways a woman can conduct a BSE. Dr. Hall encourages women to find an approach that is conducive to their lifestyle and one that makes them feel the most comfortable. Sometimes, women are so concerned about “doing it right” that they can become too stressed or overwhelmed to even attempt an exam on their own. However, women need to remember that the goal, with or without a systematic approach to a BSE, is to report any changes to their breasts to their doctor, the NBCF said.

Women are encouraged to begin a BSE in their 20s. Those who choose to conduct a BSE should consider having their technique reviewed during their annual visit with their gynecologist. Once a method is chosen, women should understand the signals or signs that would indicate they need further examination. These include: development of a lump or swelling, skin irritation or dimpling, nipple pain or retraction (turning inward), redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin, or a discharge other than breast milk (such as staining of bed sheets or bra), the American Cancer Society[Link to http://www.cancer.org in a new window with off site icon and 3rd party content disclaimer] said.

Leading breast cancer organizations have created a five-step process that women can follow or use as a starting point to conduct a BSE. 

Step 1: Begin by examining your breasts in a mirror. Face the mirror with hands on your hips and shoulders straight. Look for any visible changes in your breasts such as size, shape and color. Also, look for any of the signs that were previously mentioned.

Step 2: Raise your arms and look for the same changes.

Step 3: Still facing a mirror, look for any fluid coming out of one or both breasts.

Step 4: Lie down on a bed and feel your breasts. Use your right hand to examine your left breast and your left hand to examine your right breast. Use a firm, smooth touch with the first few finger pads of your hand. You can examine your breast by using circular motions the size of a quarter or some women find it easy to go up and down vertically as if they were mowing a lawn. Be sure to feel the entire breast – from the front to the back and gradually apply more pressure until you feel the deepest tissue and eventually your rib cage.

Step 5: Feel your breast while standing up using the same methods as applied in Step 4. Some women find it easiest to do this when their skin is slippery and wet, which is why it is often recommended that women examine their breasts in the shower.

Women who do suspect a change in their breasts should contact their doctor right away, but should not panic. A lump or change in a breast is not always a sign of breast cancer. In the United States, 20 percent of suspicious lumps that are biopsied turn out to be breast cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health Off Site Icon . There are many other causes for changes in a woman’s breast including infection, trauma, fibroadenoma, cyst or fibrocystic conditions. 

“Women should determine how they want to examine their breasts and set a time each month to do it,” Dr. Hall said. “Many women will choose to conduct their self-exam right after their menstrual cycle. Whether it is a yearly mammogram or a monthly self-exam, it’s important that women make breast screening a priority and not allow fear to delay or stop them from having it done.”

To learn more about breast cancer, find a doctor or to schedule a mammogram, visit www.premierhealthspecialists.com.

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