Three simple steps to better breast health

Nov 20, 2012 -  In 2012, there will be approximately 226,870 new cases of breast cancer among U.S. women [1]. But with advancements in technology and new treatment options, we are finding and treating breast cancer sooner and saving more lives than ever.

You can be part of the solution, too. By following this three-step proactive plan you can help find irregularities sooner. It’s easy to get started right at home.

Step 1. Do Monthly Breast Self-exams

Often the first person to notice a difference in your breasts is you. Routine breast self-exams provide a woman with the tools to know what is normal for her body, and be an active participant in her health care.

Here’s the catch: breast self-exams should be done regularly, at the same time every month. Get to know how your breasts normally feel, then look for changes.

Changes may include:
  • Development of a lump in the breast
  • A discharge other than breast milk
  • Swelling of the breast
  • Skin irritation or dimpling
  • Nipple abnormalities (such as pain, redness, scaliness, turning inward)
If you notice any of these changes, see your health care provider as soon as possible for evaluation.

When you research breast self-exams, the experts are split. On the one hand, the American Cancer Society (ACS) says breast self-exams are an option for women ages 20 and older. The other side of the argument comes from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). They don’t recommend breast self-exams because evidence suggests these exams do not lower risk for death from breast cancer.

We asked Donna, Breast Health Nurse Navigator at ECHN, her thoughts on the subject. “When I speak to women about breast health, I encourage them to be proactive and involved in their health care. Early detection is key and the breast self-exam is one of the tools that a woman may use. I am available to help teach women how to do a breast self-exam and how to communicate any findings with their health care provider. Bottom line is that a woman should speak to her health care provider and come up with a plan that is best for her.”

Still torn? Ask your health care provider about the benefits and limitations of breast self-exams and make a decision that makes sense for you.

Step 2. Have a Health Care Provider Do a Clinical Breast Examination

Your breast health should be part of your routine checkup. Take this time to bring up any concerns regarding your breast health, including family history of breast cancer, and ask when you should start having mammograms.

The ACS recommends:

Between ages 20 and 39, a clinical breast examination by a health professional every three years

After age 40, a breast examination by a health professional every year

Step 3. Mammography

A mammogram is probably the exam most closely connected with breast care and breast cancer prevention. It's the most common imaging technique and can detect breast abnormalities.

Again, recommendations vary. Currently, the USPSTF recommends screening every two years for women between ages 50 and 74. The ACS recommends yearly screening for all women ages 40 and older. The best thing to do is talk to your health care provider about your risk factors, and make a plan that is best suited for you.

Remember, the main goal of this three-step breast care plan is to be proactive and an active particpant in your health care. So if you do find something, contact your health care provider. If you do find yourself with a postive diagnosis for breast cancer or have questions regarding breast health, know you have a compassionate partner with ECHN’s Breast Care Collaborative. The Breast Care Collaborative’s multidisciplinary team is dedicated to addressing your needs, and includes radiologists, surgeons, pathologists, medical and radiation oncologists, a nurse navigator, and a care coordinator.



1 Howlader N, Noone AM, Krapcho M, et al., editors. SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2009: Fast Stats. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. http://seer.cancer.gov/csr/1975_2009_pops09/, 2012.

Online Medical Reviewer: Bowers, Nancy, RN, BSN, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
Last Annual Review Date: 6/13/2011
© 2000-2012 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.


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