Regular breast exams are a proven way of detecting and preventing breast cancer and disease. Depending on your needs, there are a range of available screening options and preventative measures you can take.
What Is Breast Screening?
Breast screening involves checking your breasts for cancer or other disease before there are any signs or symptoms. It is the primary method of detecting disease early and preventing it from spreading.
According to the American Cancer Society, all women over the age of 40 should be given the option to have yearly mammograms. However, the frequency of examinations and the specific age screening should begin will depend on your own individual risk factors for breast cancer and disease, including personal and family medical histories.
What Does Breast Screening Include?
A clinical breast exam may include the following:
Documentation of Medical History
If you or a family member has previously been diagnosed with breast cancer or disease, you may be at a greater risk. For this reason, understanding both your personal and family medical history will help us make a more accurate diagnosis.
A doctor, nurse, or trained medical professional will perform a physical examination of your breasts during the first part of your screening. This may include a visual inspection of your breasts as you are standing up, as well as a manual inspection when you are lying down.
During the visual inspection, you will be asked to raise your hands above your head or press them against your hips. This will make it easier to see any changes in your breast size, shape, or symmetry. Your nurse or doctor will also look for any discharge, dimpling, or rashes.
During the manual inspection, your nurse or doctor will use the pads of their fingers to check both of your breasts for any lumps or abnormalities. This will include the areas under your arms and your collarbone. If any suspicious lumps are found, your nurse or doctor will make a note of its size, shape, and location.
Women at higher risk for breast cancer or disease should routinely get more intensive screenings. These include mammograms, breast ultrasonography, and breast MRIs:
- Mammography: This is the gold standard of breast screening. It involves a series of x-rays that allow a doctor or specialist to detect any abnormalities in the breast tissue. The technician will first compress your breast, then take pictures from top to bottom and side to side. They may also take additional images if they are focusing on a specific area.
- Breast Ultrasound: This uses sound waves to produce images of the interior of your breast. It is a good way to tell if a lump is a fluid-filled cyst or is solid, which may indicate it is cancerous. An ultrasound is a painless procedure often done in addition to a mammogram.
- Breast MRIs: These are often performed when previous tests have been inconclusive or if you have a high lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. MRIs use magnetic energy and radio waves (but not radiation) to produce detailed images of the breast tissue. This is also a painless procedure.
Learn more about each of these radiologic examinations.
Breast Cancer & Disease Prevention
In addition to breast screening, you may also want to pursue preventative measures to lower your risk of breast cancer and disease. This can be especially helpful for women who do not have cancer but are at a high risk of developing it. This may include women with:
- Atypical ductal hyperplasia (abnormal growth of the cells lining the milk ducts)
- Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)
- A family history of breast cancer
There are many ways you can lower your risk of breast cancer and disease. Some of the most common include:
- Reducing alcohol consumption
- Quitting smoking
- Exercising regularly
- Maintaining a healthy weight
For women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations, stronger measures may be taken, including prophylactic surgery, ovary removal, or tamoxifen therapy.
Our Genetics Counseling Program offers comprehensive genetic testing and cancer risk assessment. If you’re interested in genetic testing or genetic counseling, call (212) 305-9676 or fill out our online appointment request form.
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