Early Detection Tips
- Monthly breast self-exams beginning by age 20
- Clinical breast examinations at least every 3 years beginning at age 20, and annually after 45.
- Annual Screening Mammography beginning at 45.
- Some women--because of their family history, a genetic tendency, or certain other factors--should be screened with MRI in addition to mammograms. Most women at high risk should begin screening with MRI and mammograms when they are 30 and continue for as long as they are in good health. But a woman at high risk should make the decision to start with her health care providers, taking into account personal circumstances and preferences.
- A mammogram is a safe x-ray of your breast, that looks for breast cancers that are too small for you or your doctor to feel.
- Most women do not find mammography painful. However, it can be slightly uncomfortable. The exam usually takes about 20 minutes.
- Modern mammography equipment uses very small doses of radiation and does not cause an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Most insurance companies pay for screening mammograms. There are many no-cost and low-cost programs available. Medicaid and Medicare also cover clinical breast exams and mammograms, as well as other preventive services. For more information, call the Medicare Hotline at 1-800-633-4227 or Metlife at 1-800-638-6833.
- Ask to see the FDA certificate that is issued to all facilities that meet high professional standards of safety and quality.
- Use a facility that either specializes in mammography or performs many mammograms per day.
- If you are satisfied that the facility is of high quality, continue to go there on a regular basis so that your mammograms can be compared from year to year.
- If you change facilities, ask for your old mammograms to bring with you to the new facility so that they can be compared to the new ones.
- If you have sensitive breasts, try having your mammogram at a time of the month when your breasts will be the least tender. Try to avoid the week right before your period. This will help lessen discomfort.
- Don't wear deodorant, powder, or cream under your arms - it may interfere with the quality of the mammogram.
- Before having any type of imaging test, tell the radiologic technologist if you are breast feeding or if you think you might be pregnant.
- Bring a list of the places and dates of the mammograms, biopisies, or other breast treatments you have had before.
- If you do not hear from your physician within 10 days, do not assume that your mammogram is normal - confirm this by calling your physician or the facility.
How to check your breasts
At the same time each month, check for any change in the normal look or feel of your breasts. Look for lump, hard knot, or skin that thickens or dimples. Report any changes to your doctor or nurse. Go for regular breast exams and pap tests. Ask about a mammogram.
To examine your breasts, follow these steps:
- Lie down on your back and place your right arm behind your head. The exam is done while lying down, not standing up. This is because when lying down the breast tissue spreads evenly over the chest wall and is as thin as possible, making it much easier to feel all the breast tissue.
- Use the finger pads of the 3 middle fingers on your left hand to feel for lumps in the right breast.
- Use overlapping dime-sized circular motions of the finger pads to feel the breast tissue.
- Use 3 different levels of pressure to feel all the breast tissue. Light pressure is needed to feel the tissue closest to the skin; medium pressure to feel a little deeper; firm pressure to feel the tissue closest to the chest and ribs.
- It is normal to feel a firm ridge in the lower curve of each breast, but you should tell your doctor if you feel anything else out of the ordinary. If you’re not sure how hard to press, talk with your doctor or nurse. Use each pressure level to feel the breast tissue before moving on to the next spot.
- Move around the breast in an up and down pattern starting at an imaginary line drawn straight down your side from the underarm and moving across the breast to the middle of the chest bone (sternum or breastbone). Be sure to check the entire breast area going down until you feel only ribs and up to the neck or collar bone (clavicle).
- Repeat the exam on your left breast, putting your left arm behind your head and using the finger pads of your right hand to do the exam.
- This procedure for doing breast self-exam is different from previous recommendations. These changes represent an extensive review of the medical literature and input from an expert advisory group. There is evidence that this position (lying down), the area felt, pattern of coverage of the breast, and use of different amounts of pressure increase a woman’s ability to find abnormal areas.
**Information is courtesy of the American Cancer Society**