Can I Skip the Doctor and Do Breast Self Exams at Home?
Susan G. Komen reported breast cancer accounted for 25 percent of all cancers in 2012. As such, regular breast exams and screenings are essential to detect any potential breast abnormalities that could be cancerous.
It’s suggested that women who are at average-risk for breast cancer receive an annual clinical breast exam (CBE) starting at 25 years-old. The American Cancer Society (ACS) suggests women begin getting a mammogram annually at age 45. (Women 55 years-old and older may continue annual mammograms or switch to receiving the screening every two years.) However, even during mammogram screening years, women are suggested to continue the annual CBE.
So, could you skip the doctor and perform a breast self-exam at home regardless of your age? It is certainly not recommended. Your CBE should be performed by a trained healthcare professional, but it’s smart for you to also perform self-exams. Let’s talk through why it’s important to know and check your own breasts, but to still go for your yearly check-up.
Why You Shouldn’t Skip Professional Breast Exams
You shouldn’t consider replacing your annual CBE with a breast self-exam. The CBE should be performed by a medical professional because he or she is trained to properly provide the assessment. It’s also essential that you discuss your family’s medical background with your provider so the he can determine the best schedule for your exams. Based on that information, it’s possible the provider may request you see him more often or begin mammograms earlier than the suggested age.
You and your healthcare provider are an advocacy team for your health, but you can’t work as a team if you don’t schedule regular breast exams.
Why You Should Check Your Own Breasts Regularly
The National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) suggests women perform breast self-exams once per month. Checking your own breasts regularly helps you become familiar with your breasts. Your breasts undergo changes during your period and may feel different throughout the month. However, performing self-exams regularly lets you become accustomed to what’s normal.
When you know how your breasts normally feel, it’s easier to detect when something feels abnormal. This helps you proactively alert your healthcare provider when you notice something that wasn’t there before.
How to Perform Breast Self-Exams at Home
The NBCF suggests one of three methods for performing breast self-exams at home each month. The method women will likely find most convenient is performed in the shower. (Check here for additional self-exam methods and how-tos.) With one arm raised, make circular motions around your breasts with the pads of your fingertips. Move your fingers from the outside to the center of your breasts, ensuring you check the armpit and entire breast.
Once you examine one breast, examine the other. Feel for any lumps, thickening or knots. If you notice anything that seems abnormal, contact your healthcare provider for a professional exam.
Breast health is an integral part of a woman’s overall health. To proactively care for your breasts, combine self-exams with professional exams, and depending on your age, with mammograms. The more aware you are of your breasts, the more proactive you can be. And, the more proactive you are, the better you and your provider can manage your breast health.