Over the course of an 80-year lifespan, a woman has a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer. The most treatable and earliest stages of breast cancer can produce no symptoms and are very difficult to detect – especially on your own. While routine self-breast exams are critical in detecting small abnormal lumps, these should never replace a clinical breast exam from your physician
Routine visits to your gynecologist are important for optimal health and wellness. Your primary care physician is not likely to perform the necessary exams for your breasts and vagina, both of which are critical to your overall health regardless of your age as a woman. When it comes to the breasts, the reason they need to be professionally screened is because of breast cancer, and like many cancers, early detection is key.
Breast Exams Performed by a Physician
Your gynecologist will perform a clinical breast exam while you are lying down. He or she will check for lumps, changes or other abnormalities by carefully and gently feeling the breasts, underarm, and area below the clavicle. While it may seem awkward, the exam takes just a few minutes and is a critical step in breast cancer prevention. There are changes and lumps that can be felt by a professional and not on your own.
When Are Clinical Breast Exams Needed?
Women should have a clinical breast exam once a year or, at the least, once every three years beginning at age 19. If you are in your 20s and 30s, this is the only type of screening you’ll have for breast cancer (unless you are deemed a high-risk patient due to family history). Beginning in your 40s, you’ll likely be instructed to get a mammogram along with yearly clinical breast exams. Finally, if you have dense breast tissue or implants, clinical breast exams become even more important because it is more difficult to detect abnormalities.
Regardless of your age or breast cancer risk factor, it is critical that you perform your own self breast exam at home each month. If you are unsure how to conduct these evaluations, talk to your physician.
Warning Signs of Breast Cancer
As mentioned before, early breast cancer typically produces no symptoms. However, the most prevalent physical sign is a painless lump. This can occur anywhere in the breast or even under the arm. Less common warning signs of breast cancer include breast pain or heaviness, sudden swelling, thickening, or redness of the skin as well as nipple abnormalities (discharge, retraction, etc). Any persistent changes that you notice within your breasts needs a physician’s attention sooner rather than later.
At North Pointe OB/GYN, we perform clinical breast exams as part of your annual checkup. We also take the time to educate women about breast health and the importance of knowing how to detect breast cancer at its earliest stages. If you would like to schedule your clinical breast exam with one of our caring and talented gynecologists, please call our Cumming office today.