It is important for women to take an active role in early detection of breast cancer. Your
physician can provide information for the proper schedule of checkups and symptoms to watch
for. This advice will be based on a woman’s age, medical history and other factors.
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), it is estimated that about 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer during her lifetime. The exact causes of breast cancer are not known. However, studies show that the risk of breast cancer increases as a woman gets older. This disease is very uncommon in women under the age of 35. Most breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50, and the risk is especially high for women over age 60. Also, breast cancer occurs more often in white women than African American or Asian women.
Symptoms …What to look for
Early breast cancer usually does not cause pain. In fact, when it first develops, breast cancer may
cause no symptoms at all. But as the cancer grows, it can cause changes that women should
• A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area.
• A change in the size or shape of the breast.
• A discharge from the nipple.
• A change in the color or feel of the breast, areola or nipple (dimpled, puckered or scaly).
• Skin irritation and dimpling.
• Redness, scaliness or swelling of the breast.
A woman should see her doctor if she notices any of these changes. Most often, they are not
cancer, but only a doctor can tell for sure. Breast exams save lives!
There are four important early detection procedures:
• Clinical Breast Exam
• Breast Self-exam
• Digital Mammogram
Clinical Breast Exam (CBE)
A breast exam by a physician or nurse is typically a part of a routine annual check up for all
women. During a CBE, a health professional will carefully inspect and palpate (feel) a woman’s
breasts and under her arms to check for lumps or other unusual changes while she is lying down.
A clinical breast exam is not a substitute for regular mammography for women over 40 years of
By regularly examining her own breasts, a woman is likely to notice any changes that occur. The
best time for breast self-examination (BSE) is about a week after your period ends, when your
breasts are not tender or swollen. If you are not having regular periods, do BSE on the same day
For monthly breast exams use the fingerpads of your three middle fingers to feel your breast.Always use your left hand for your right breast and your right hand for your left breast.
Use one of the following methods consistently each time you examine yourself:
1. Circular motion in an oval pattern.
2. Vertical motion in a rectangular pattern.
3. Wedge motion in an oval pattern.
Check for any lumps, hard knots, swelling, dimpling, or thickening. Observe for abnormal
change of size, shape, color or discharge.
Standing in front of a mirror, look at both breasts while your arms are at your sides. While raising
your arms slowly, look for swelling or changes in nipples or breasts. With your hands on your
hips, flex your chest muscles and compare your breasts.
While in the shower, extend your right arm up and examine your right breast. Switch (extend left
arm, examine left breast).
While reclined on your bed or floor on your back, place a pillow under your right shoulder so
your right breast is flat. Examine your right breast with your right arm under your head. Switch
(place pillow under left shoulder and examine left breast).
A mammogram is a special x-ray. It is actually two x-rays of each breast, one taken from the top
and one from the side. The breast must be compressed between two flat surfaces in order to
obtain clear images. While this compression may be uncomfortable (not painful), it lasts for only
a few seconds. In many cases, mammograms can detect breast tumors that are too small to be felt
or cause symptoms. A mammogram may also show small deposits of calcium in the breast. A
cluster of very tiny specks of calcium (called microcalcifications) may be an early sign of cancer.
Mammography should be done only by specially trained medical staff using equipment designed
for taking x-rays of the breast. The x-ray images should be read and interpreted by a qualified
radiologist. (See information about new digital mammography.)
Mammography screening remains the single most effective method to detect breast cancer inearly stages. However, because no medical test is always 100% accurate, mammography is no
exception. Therefore, it is important for women to have their breasts examined regularly by a
doctor or nurse and perform BSE’s.
Reduce Your Risk
Many risk factors can be avoided. Others, such as family history, cannot be avoided. Women can help protect themselves by staying away from known risk factors whenever possible. Here are a few things to keep in mind to reduce your risk of breast cancer:
For children and adolescents, regular physical activity has beneficial effects on the following aspects of health:
- Exercise and control your weight. Make healthy choices in the foods you eat and the kinds of drinks you have each day. Be sure to stay active!
- Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.
- Know your family history. If you have a mother, sister, or daughter with breast cancer, ask your doctor what your risk of getting breast cancer is and how you can lower your risk.
- Find out the risk and benefits of hormone replacement therapy (HRT).Some women use HRT to treat the symptoms of menopause. Ask your doctor about the risks and benefits of HRT and find out if it’s right for you.
- Get screened for breast cancer regularly. By getting the necessary exams, you can increase your chances of finding out early on, if you have breast cancer.