Breast self-examination is the best way to familiarize yourself with what’s normal for your breasts. By taking the time to learn how your breasts feel normally, you will be able to recognize any changes and discover how your breasts vary in sensitivity and texture at different times during your menstrual cycle. For women of all ages, it is recommended that you perform a breast self-exam at least once a month.
For more on how to perform a breast self-exam, review this information from the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
After you’ve established what normal looks like for you, there are a few things to watch for when performing your monthly breast self-exam:
- Hardened knots
- Swelling, dimpling or puckering of the skin
- Nipple discharge
- Breast pain
If you notice any of these changes during your monthly breast self-exam, it may be time to make an appointment and consult your health care provider.
There are four types of screening and diagnostic tests available for women after consulting with your doctor—clinical breast exams, mammograms and breast ultrasounds. Each of these serve a different purpose and have unique guidelines.
Clinical Breast Exams
Performed by a health care professional who is trained to recognize any changes or warning signs, clinical breast exams are conducted in-office. These exams are often completed by a Women’s Health team member. Typically clinical breast exams are performed every three years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and over.
Starting at age 40, it is recommended by the American Cancer Society that mammograms are performed annually. A mammogram is an x-ray that allows medical professionals to examine breast tissue for suspicious areas, including lumps, microcalcifications, cysts and more.
This diagnostic test is often a follow-up to a mammogram. The ultrasound uses sound waves to produce an image of the breast to be used for breast cancer screening and diagnosis.
This screening tool is recommended for women who are at high risk for breast cancer. Breast MRIs are always done in combination with either mammograms or breast ultrasounds.
The American Cancer Society provides basic information about breast cancer, such as what it is and how it forms, as well as the signs and symptoms of the disease.