Breast Exams

07SSExams2The most important key to breast health is to stay ahead of the curve. If breast cancer is found early, there are more treatment options and a better chance for survival. Breast cancer screening tests consist of mammograms—X-rays of the breast used for early detection when lumps are too small to detect by hand, and clinical breast exams—a visual and physical examination of the breast by a health care provider. The American Cancer Society recommends that women between the ages of 20 and 39 get a clinical breast exam every three years; women who are 40 and older should get both a clinical breast exam and a mammogram every year.

By Jenna Haines

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While adhering to a strict checkup schedule will increase your chances of catching breast cancer early, you should also pay attention to specific symptoms that indicate trouble. Susan G. Komen for the Cure highlights some red flags:

a lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area

swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast

change in the size or shape of the breast

dimpling or puckering of the skin

itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple

pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast

nipple discharge that starts suddenly

new pain in one spot that doesn’t go away

For extra precaution, you can also perform self-exams. The American Cancer Society advises that you perform the test on the first day of your period, lying down, with the finger pads of the three middle fingers. Use three different levels of pressure—light, medium and firm—before moving on to the next spot. While self-exams are always a good idea, it is important to understand that they are not as effective as mammograms and clinical exams, and it may be harder for women with denser breasts to detect abnormalities.