Taking a look at the statistics, it’s easy to see why breast exams are so important to a woman’s overall health. This year, one in every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, according to breastcancer.org. 44,000 women will die from the disease. It’s crucial to screen for cancer and bring your concerns to your doctor as soon as possible. Early detection saves lives, but how frequently should you screen for breast cancer? Here’s the breakdown.
Anytime at home
While the recommended frequency of testing at home is just once a month, this can be done anytime and anywhere that’s private, and can be done with any amount of frequency. The at-home breast exam is a simple, painless way to screen for breast abnormalities. To screen yourself, lie down with a pillow behind your back on the side of the breast you’re testing. Pull your arm over your head and start to move your fingers in slow circles, moving all over the breast. It’s normal to have soft and nodular tissue in your breast. If you feel a hard lump, however, it’s time to consult your doctor. It could be cancer, or simply a benign cyst. Some lumps are nothing to worry about. If your lump becomes larger over time, go to the doctor. If your lump goes away after you complete your menstrual cycle, it’s likely nothing to worry about, but a trip to the doctor could put your mind at ease.
If you’re under 40
If you’re under 40 years old and in good health, touch-and-feel breast exams might be administered by your doctor during normal check-ups and pap smears. According to the American Cancer Society, women under 40 years old should only seek mammograms if they have a history of breast cancer in the family or if their at-home exam was abnormal. Some studies suggest that the X-rays used in mammograms might be more harmful than beneficial for young women to test every year of their lives. Consider your family history and plan accordingly.
If you’re older than 40
The risk of breast cancer increases as you age, so the American Cancer Society recommends that all women older than 40 should get a mammogram once a year, on top of doing their regular at-home exams. Don’t neglect mammograms and self-exams because you’re afraid of the outcome. If the disease is caught early, the chance of survival increases dramatically.