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 on a regular basis, having a clinical breast exam once a year is equally as important.
Why is a Regular Breast Exam 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.
An annual breast exam increases the possibility of detecting any possible cancer early, 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 have explained what you can expect below.
Types of Breast Cancer Tests
An initial breast test typically happens one of two ways:
Clinical Breast Exam: a doctor or other medical provider may manually press down on and around your breasts with their fingertips during a routine gynecological visit. They usually press fairly gently and do so to see if there are any concerning lumps or abnormalities. If they find anything unusual, they may recommend further testing just to be sure.
Mammogram: A more in-depth breast exam is called a mammogram., which 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 or abnormality during a clinical breast exam, or if you had an abnormal screening mammogram.
The Importance of Checking for Breast Cancer
Women should get a clinical breast exam at least once a year when they go in for their annual well-woman visit. We also recommend breast awareness, which is understanding what is normal for your breasts.
Monthly self-examinations help you notice anything unusual about your breasts, or any changes you feel or see since you last checked your breasts. If you find anything unusual or concerning, be sure to 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!