One good habit to practice every year? Getting your annual breast exam, of course. Between the ages of 25 to 39, doctors recommend that people with breasts get examined every one to three years, and after turning 40, a yearly breast exam plus a mammogram every one to two years is advised. To round out Breast Cancer Awareness month, we’ve put together a list outlining why you should get an exam, where you can get it done, and how to examine yourself at home between your annual appointments.
Why Should I Get an Annual Exam?
As demonstrated by the year we’ve just had so far, crazy unexpected things can happen in life. While there isn’t (unfortunately) a way to prevent breast cancer, early detection increases your chances of finding and fighting it before it has the chance to spread. The earlier breast cancer is found, the easier it is to treat, and the regularity of annual exams allows your doctor to address anything unusual right away.
Where Can I Get One?
Talk to your healthcare provider! This in-office exam will usually be conducted by your gynecologist at your annual visit, or by your physician. Your annual visit is also a great time to ask any and all questions you may have related to your breasts. This is a safe space — no question is too weird or embarrassing.
What Can I Expect During a Breast Exam?
During your exam, your doctor will check your breasts for any possible problems or signs of breast cancer. You’ll likely be given a robe, as you’ll be asked to remove any clothing covering your breasts, and from there, your doctor will feel for any abnormalities using the tips of their fingers, starting with one and then moving to the other. If anything is found, your doctor will run tests like a mammography, ultrasound, or biopsy to determine whether or not the issue is benign. A lot of non-threatening factors like cysts or infections could be behind said lump, so don’t freak out in the case that anything is found!
Should I Examine Myself?
We’re glad you asked! In between your annual exams, it is encouraged that you examine yourself once a month, ideally a few days after your period, in order to check for any physical changes. It doesn’t have to be a big, onerous task — it can be done in just a few minutes either in the shower, in front of your bathroom mirror, or between outfits during your at-home online shopping try-on session. Face your mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips, then check for any changes like dimpled or puckered skin, unusual positioning of your nipples, or redness and soreness. Then, raise your arms to examine for any of the aforementioned changes again. Follow by lying down and feeling your breasts one at a time, working in circular motions. Simply apply medium pressure with your pointer, middle, and ring fingers around your breast, feeling for any lumps, hard knots, or general weirdness that wasn’t there the month before. Easy peasy.