Breast Cancer Awareness Month: How To Approach A Breast Exam

Changing the way you approach breast exams could save your running life.

If you're over 40, it's time to make friends with this 3D-imaging machine. See, it's not so scary!
If you’re over 40, it’s time to make friends with this 3D-imaging machine. See, it’s not so scary!

Changing the way you approach breast exams could save your running life. 

Step #1 Consider your genes.
Thomas Cink, a doctor at Edith Sanford Breast Bancer Foundation, says it’s important to take note “if you have a lot of cancer in your family.” For women with two first-degree relatives who have been diagnosed with cancer, he recommends seeing a geneticist who will conduct a full interview and discern if it’s appropriate to perform genetic testing. For women with a first-degree relative diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 45, Cink advises to begin mammograms at an age five to seven years younger than the relative’s detection.

Step #2 Then start with yourself.
Cink says, “The first thing for women to do is good self-exams.” He recommends performing these monthly, starting in your 20s, to get a sense of how your tissue feels so you will be able to detect any future changes. Massage the breast and armpit area both while standing up and lying down, looking for any abnormalities.

Step #3 Get professional help.
Clinical exams are performed by a gynecologist or physician. Cink says that women should start receiving annual clinicals in their mid-30s. Your medical professional will look for lumps as well as changes in the nipple.

Step #4 Up your mammo-game.
At 40, every woman should begin receiving yearly mammograms. Cink says, “This is where we find cancers that are very curable and treatable.” When scheduling an exam, he recommends looking for clinics accredited by the American College of Radiology and the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers.

If possible, find a clinic that performs 3D (instead of 2D) imaging. A recent study found that 3D imaging detected 41 percent more cancers—while producing 15 to 20 percent fewer false-positive tests.

Always Remember

1. Know you’re not immune. One in eight women, regardless of family history, will develop breast cancer in her life. “We see up to 40,000 women every year, and we find the majority of cancers in people who don’t have any other risk factors,” Dr. Cink says.

2. The process can be comfy. Exams of any sort can seem icky on the surface, but if you find a good doctor, the experience should be comfortable. Cink explains, “People who are dedicated to breast cancer deliver the highest quality of care.”

3. Make mammograms a priority. The worst thing you can do for your breast health is skip a screening. “It’s easy in a busy world to forget, but that’s when cancer can develop,” says Cink.