You greatly increase your chances of survival with early detection of breast cancer. So here are the three most common methods used for early detection of breast cancer:
- A breast self-examination (BSE) involves checking your own breasts for lumps or changes that may require medical attention. When doing a self-exam, you use your hands and your eyes to observe the feel and appearance of your breasts. In doing so, you become familiar with what is normal (it’s normal for breasts to feel a little lumpy and uneven) and inspect for any changes. There's disagreement within the medical community as to the effectiveness of BSEs for preventing deaths due to breast cancer. Once believed that many breast problems were first discovered by doing a BSE, many experts now believe there can be more harm than benefit caused by doing BSEs. According to WebMD, most breast problems or changes are not due to cancer. Pregnancy, aging, menopause, menstrual cycles, or birth control pills can also cause changes. Finding a change is often stressful and can cause fear and worry as well as unnecessary biopsies. So the BSE is no longer specifically recommended for breast cancer screening. However, many women still choose to examine their own breasts. To learn how to do a BSE, I recommend that you Google “Breast Self Examination”. There are many sites with written or video instructions, and you can select one or more that you find most helpful.
- A clinical breast examination (CBE) is similar to a BSE, except that a CBE is physical exam performed by a health care provider (physician, nurse practitioner, or other medical professional) during your regular medical exam. According to the National Cancer Institute, some cancers may be found by a CBE that cannot be detected by a screening mammogram. However, while CBEs can be helpful in finding tumors, it is not a substitute for regular mammograms in women over 40. CBEs are beneficial for women under 40 years of age who do not yet get regular mammograms.
- A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast. A screening mammogram is a tool that screens for breast cancer when there’s no sign or symptom of the disease. Tumors that cannot be felt or tiny deposits of calcium (microcalcifications) that may indicate breast cancer can be detected in the x-ray images. Mammograms are recommended annually for women age 40 and over. This includes women who have breast implants. Be sure to let the facility know if you have implants because they can hide some breast tissue and special care can be taken to assure that as much breast tissue as possible shows up on the mammogram.