Why Do I Need a Breast Exam?


A breast examination is an important part of routine physical checkups.

A breast physical examination by a health care provider (such as your family physician, nurse, or gynecologist) should be performed at least every three years starting at age 20 and every year starting at age 40. A clinical breast exam may be recommended more frequently if you have a strong family history of breast cancer.

Breast exams are best performed soon after your menstrual period ends, because your breasts will not be as tender and swollen as during the menstrual period.

This makes it easier for the provider to detect any unusual changes. If you have stopped menstruating, schedule the yearly exam on a day easy for you to remember, such as your birthdate.

Your health care provider will ask you detailed questions about your health history, including your menstrual and pregnancy history. Questions might include at what age you started menstruating and how old you were when your first child was born, if applicable.

A thorough breast exam will be performed. Your health care provider will look at your breasts to detect any changes in size or shape. Your provider may ask you to lift your arms over your head, put your hands on your hips, or lean forward. He or she will examine your breasts for any skin changes including rashes, dimpling, or redness. As you lay on your back with your arms behind your head, your health care provider will examine your breasts with the pads of the fingers to detect lumps, dense masses, tenderness, or other changes in the breast tissue. The area under both arms will also be examined.

Your health care provider will gently press around your nipple to check for any discharge. If there is a nipple discharge, a sample may be collected to be examined under a microscope so cancer cells can be detected.

Repeated examinations by a health care provider may bring attention to areas that require additional testing, such as benign lumps and masses or areas of thickening. Areas that have changed or may cause concern can be charted or documented on a diagram, making it easier to detect small changes at the next examination.

Clinical and breast self examination are important methods of early breast cancer detection and should be performed along with mammography. All three of these methods provide complete breast cancer screening.


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