Breast exams are an essential part of a healthy routine for every woman. We understand that breast cancer can be a scary topic that many women don’t want to think about. However, regular checkups at our Women’s Center are the best way to maintain health and monitor any changes you may experience in your breasts. At Southside Medical Center in Atlanta, GA, we offer comprehensive gynecological and women’s health services for our valued female patients.
What Are Breast Exams and Why Are They Important?
Breast exams are the first-line defense against breast cancer and come in several forms: self-examination, clinical examination, mammogram, ultrasound, and MRI. Using a combination of exams in tandem consistently is the most effective way to detect breast cancer early.
Although having a family history of the disease can increase your risk, you do not have to have a hereditary breast cancer link for it to develop. Seventy percent of all breast cancer cases occur in women with no known family history of the disease. Because of the spontaneous nature of the disease, it’s crucial that all women learn about the various exams for breasts and when to get them.
No matter your age, examining your breasts at home is one of the most important self-care activities you can incorporate into your routine. Statistics show that around 40% of diagnosed breast cancer cases are first detected during self-exams.
Inspecting your breasts at home costs nothing and helps you get familiar with the tissues in your breasts. Once you know what these tissues feel like, you are more likely to recognize changes. We recommend adult women of all ages perform a self-breast exam every month. Self-exams are a three-part process that you can easily fit into your life.
Start your exam while showering by raising one hand to your head and using the flat parts of your first three fingers to press around the breast and armpit region on the side of the raised arm. Use varying pressure and notice how the tissue feels. Repeat the process for both breasts.
The second step in the self-exam is to look at your breasts in a mirror. Look at them with your arms relaxed by your sides and with your arms raised over your head. Notice the shape, size, and textures. Finally, place your hands on your hips and flex your chest muscles. Look for any changes, swelling, or skin dimpling.
The final step in a self-exam is to lie down on your back with a pillow under one shoulder. Raise the arm on the same side as the pillow behind your head. Use the three fingers on the opposite hand to inspect your breast and armpit. Use varying pressure to check for lumps. Squeeze the nipple to look for any discharge.
If You’re Still Unsure, We Can Help
If you aren’t sure if you are performing your self-exam correctly, let us know. We can show how to do the exam and what it should feel like at your next appointment.
What To Do If You Notice Changes
If you notice any changes or lumps during a self-exam, schedule an appointment with us. Not all changes or lumps indicate breast cancer. Still, it’s better to have a full medical examination early to be sure.
Clinical Breast Exam
A clinical breast exam (CBE) is like the self-exam. However, it’s performed by a professional health care provider with training for this exam. You should receive this check every time you go in for a gynecological checkup. If you have an annual checkup, you will receive a CBE every year.
Your doctor, nurse practitioner, or other trained medical staff will investigate the tissue of your breasts, under your armpits, and upward toward your clavicle. They ask you to change positions so they can investigate the tissue from different angles.
A mammogram is a diagnostic imaging test with an X-ray used for breast cancer screening. Mammograms are among the most important tools for early diagnosis. During this test, your breast tissues are compressed and flattened between two firm surfaces. The X-ray photographs the tissues and transmits them to a viewing screen for the doctor’s inspection.
We use mammograms for breast cancer screening and diagnosis. This imaging test can detect tumors, lumps, and abnormalities. This test can pick up signs of cancer in women who have no otherwise observable symptoms of abnormal breast tissue.
Your doctor or sonographer may use an ultrasound to examine the size and shape of any breast lumps present. This early diagnostic method is an effective way to determine if the lump is a benign cyst or tumor. An ultrasound is also useful for evaluating symptoms, changes, or monitoring existing lumps.
You won’t need to have ultrasound testing for breast testing unless you experience breast tissue changes or lumps. This is an essential tool for examining breast tissue, not a required exam for all women.
Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is a device that uses radio waves and magnets to create elaborate photos of breast tissues. This test is sometimes used to diagnose breast cancer; it is also used to assess any known tumors.
An MRI test is recommended for patients who have a lifetime breast cancer risk that is less than 15%. Your doctor will advise you on whether an MRI is necessary for your testing.
How Often Should I Get a Breast Exam? Breast Exam Recommendations By Age and Risk
How often you should get or perform a breast exam depends on a few factors. All women must learn how to do a self-exam and repeat it every month at home. A trained professional in our Women’s Center must perform other exams. How often you should receive professional testing depends on your age and risk. Find the recommended frequency for individual breast exams below.
Average Breast Cancer Risk
Most women have an average risk of developing breast cancer. The risk of developing the disease increases with age. Below are the recommended exams for each age category for women with an average risk.
Ages 20 to 39
Women in their twenties and thirties should get a clinical breast exam every one to three years to look for breast cancer.
Ages 40 to 75
Women over forty should receive both a mammogram and clinical breast exam every year to monitor for breast cancer.
Ages 76 and Up
Women older than 75 should discuss their personal circumstances with their doctor. Only a doctor can decide if breast cancer screening after this age is necessary or advised.
Increased Breast Cancer Risk
Some women have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Having an increased risk doesn’t mean that you will get cancer, but they must receive more frequent testing. Aging only adds to the increased risk. Risk factors for breast cancer include:
- Carrying a related genetic mutation ( BRCA 1 or BRCA 2, CDH1, Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba Syndrome)
- Lobular carcinoma history
- Strong family history of breast cancer
- Having received radiation treatment to the chest
- Having had breast cancer already
Contact us if you believe you may be at an increased risk of breast cancer. We can offer personalized support and recommendations for your testing protocol. Women who have a high risk of breast cancer should begin mammogram testing before age 40. These women may also need an MRI in combination with mammograms.
Are Breasts Exams Included in a Well-Woman Exam?
We recommend the yearly well-woman exam or female physical to all women when they become sexually active or when they reach age 21, whichever happens first. This essential women’s health care practice gives you access to our team of board-certified health care practitioners who are also on staff at major metropolitan hospitals. Your safety, comfort, and health are our top priorities.
Included in the well-woman exam are a clinical breast examination, pelvic examination, and a PAP smear. Most major health insurance plans cover these preventive care services one time per year.
The Women’s Center at Southside Medical Center offers a full range of gynecological services and treatments. You may add these services to your visit in addition to CBE, checkup, or well-woman exams. Your options include:
- Cancer screenings
- Family planning
- Menopause care
- Menstrual cycle care
- Pap smears
- Pregnancy testing
- Prenatal care
- Sexually transmitted disease (STD) testing
What Can I Expect During My Visit?
We begin your visit by collecting some vital information about your medical history. This is also an excellent time to ask questions and discuss your concerns with a health care provider. We usually start your visit with a clinical breast exam.
If you are visiting for a well-woman exam, we’ll perform a PAP smear and pelvic exam. A PAP smear is a test for cervical cancer. We collect a small sample of cells from your cervix for testing. We use the pelvic exam to look for cysts, ovary positioning, irregularities, and other women’s reproductive health concerns.
We are committed to providing the best care to all our patients through compassion, professionalism, and confidentiality.
Why Are Regular Breast Exams So Important?
Breast cancer is a common disease women face, especially as they age. Growing old is the number one risk factor for breast cancer. The general risk factor for receiving a breast cancer diagnosis is 1 in 8, although this is a lifetime risk. After the age of 70, about 1 in 8 women will have breast cancer. The actual risks vary significantly depending on age.
Aging and Increased Risk
Women in their twenties have a much lower chance of having breast cancer. Only about 1 in 2,000 women in their twenties get the disease. From the age of 30 onward, those chances increase substantially. Women in their thirties have a 1 in 229 chance. Those chances increase in the forties where there is a 1 in 37 chance, and in the fifties, a 1 in 37. One in 20 sixty-something women develop breast cancer.
Women 50 or older should visit us at least once per year to have a CBE and mammogram. During and after menopause, fatty tissue replaces dense breast tissue. It’s much easier for the mammogram to detect cancer in fatty tissue than in dense breast tissue.
Mammograms are the most effective means for detecting breast abnormalities around these ages. If you are or have experienced early onset menopause, we recommend receiving a yearly mammogram.
Early Detection = A Better Life
Early detection of breast cancer provides more treatment options, a higher quality of life, and increased survival rates. Although there isn’t a perfect test for detecting breast cancer, regular exams can make all the difference in how your treatment and life proceeds from the moment of diagnosis onward.
Schedule an Appointment
All women are at risk of developing breast cancer and getting regular breast exams is the best way to detect breast cancer early. We specialize in assisting women with these exams and helping them through diagnosis and treatment. Contact us today at Southside Medical Center in Atlanta, GA to schedule an appointment. We look forward to meeting you.