Breast Exam Guidelines

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When detected early, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 97 percent. Therefore, it is important for each woman to make breast exams part of her ongoing, overall healthcare. Follow the guidelines below, talk with your physician, and take steps to reduce risk factors—exercise, eat a balanced diet and avoid tobacco use.

Risk Factors
Having a mother, sister or daughter who has breast cancer puts you at higher risk for the disease. The risk is even greater if your relative developed breast cancer before menopause and had cancer in both breasts. However, 76% of women who have breast cancer had none of the risk factors. Being female is the highest risk factor. All women are at risk.

A screening mammogram can help detect breast cancer in its early and most treatable stages. The American Cancer Society recommends women of average risk should begin routine, annual screening as early as age 40, but no later than age 45. Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or can continue annual screening. Screenings should continue as long as the woman is in good health.

Clinical Breast Exams
In addition to mammograms, a clinical breast exam (CBE) should be performed at least once a year by a physician or qualified healthcare professional for women over age 40. Women under 40 should have this exam at least once every three years. The Center for Breast Health has a certified clinical breast health examiner that will perform the exam when indicated.

Breast self-exams are an extremely important part of early detection. Most lumps are benign, but you should immediately tell your physician if you suspect you have a lump. Early detection is the key to treating breast cancer. Follow the triple touch approach recommended by the American Cancer Society:

If you are age 20 or over, examine your own breasts every month. To perform a self-exam, you should:

  • Stand in front of a mirror and look for changes in your breasts. You should stand with your arms at your sides, then stretch your arms above your head and look again. Finally, stand with your hands on your hips, flex the chest muscles and look for any changes.
  • Lie on your back with a pillow under your shoulder on the side you're examining. Use three fingers of the opposite hand, gently press and feel the breast, start at the nipple and circle outward feeling for any lumps. Repeat the process on your other breast.
  • Gently squeeze your nipples and look for any leakage or discharge.

You should establish a routine for examining your breasts every month. If you'd like help in learning these exam techniques, contact your physician or the breast care professionals at Dupont Hospital.

After breast cancer treatment
Breast exams are necessary, even if you've been treated for breast cancer. Learn more here.

Center for Breast Health
The professionals at the Center for Breast Health are here to help answer any breast care questions you may have before, during and after treatment. Call (260) 416-3091 to speak with our breast-health navigator. Click here for more information.