A breast exam is an important part of preventative care if you’re a woman with breasts. While it’s essential to pay attention to your own breasts and administer an at-home exam when you can, having a clinical breast exam once a year is equally as important. Breast cancer is more prevalent than you might think. According to the CDC, not counting some kinds of skin cancer, breast cancer in the United States is:
- The most common cancer in women, no matter your race or ethnicity.
- The most common cause of death from cancer among Hispanic women.
- The second most common cause of death from cancer among white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native women.
The benefit of screening regularly through an annual breast exam is the possibility of finding cancer early (if you have it) when it might be easier to treat. There’s no reason to fear or avoid a clinical breast exam, and to make you feel more comfortable about it, we’ve explained what you can expect below.
What Happens During a Breast Exam?
A breast exam can happen one of two ways. One, a doctor or other medical provider may manually press down on and around your breasts with their fingertips during a routine well woman gynecological visit. They usually press fairly gently and do so to see if there are any lumps or abnormalities you should be concerned about. If they find anything unusual, they may recommend further testing just to be sure.
A more in-depth breast exam is called a mammogram. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that helps detect breast cancer early. It can find lumps that are too small to be felt during a clinical breast exam.
There are 2 types of mammograms: screening mammograms and diagnostic mammograms. Screening mammograms are ones you get as part of a regular checkup if you’ve had no symptoms. They let your doctor see what’s normal for your breasts and if there are any changes since your last mammogram. A diagnostic mammogram may occur if your doctor detected a lump during a clinical breast exam or if you had an abnormal screening mammogram.
When Do You Need a Breast Exam?
Generally, you should get a clinical breast exam at least once a year when you go in for your annual well woman visit. We also recommend breast awareness – in other words, if you notice anything unusual about your breasts, or something different as you’re drying off from the shower, you should make an appointment to get checked out.
You should also get screening mammograms annually beginning at 40 years old. You may need to get one sooner if someone in your family had breast cancer at a young age, or if you have cysts in your breasts, which can hide the symptoms of breast cancer.
Are you looking for an OB/Gyn you can trust? Do you live in the Tucson area? Let us partner with you to help you achieve true health and wellness. Book an appointment today!