There are many preventive health measures we should take as we get older, and for women, breast exams are one of the most important. Breasts can be the part of the body where several long-term health issues become visible, and it’s vital that women perform regular checks to ensure they haven’t run into any of these problems.
Breast self-examinations are one option, but adult women should also have checks performed periodically by a medical professional. These exams are generally part of basic yearly checkups, so they often don’t come with any major extra cost.
How often should you get a professional breast exam, how is the test performed, and how will your doctor proceed if there are any issues? Let’s take a look.
Frequency and Timing
A breast exam performed by a doctor, nurse or nurse practitioner should become a regular consideration for women once they reach adulthood. Women between the ages of 20 and 40 should have an exam at least once every three years, and women over the age of 40 should have them done every year. For women with a family or personal history of breast cancer, your doctor may recommend that you have the check done even more often.
The timing of a professional breast exam is important. Because your breasts swell up and may be tender during your menstrual cycle, it’s best to schedule exams for directly after your period so it’s easier for your medical professional to pick up any issues. For women who have already gone through menopause, you can simply schedule your exam at the most convenient time.
How It’s Done
In most cases, an in-office breast exam is a simple procedure with a few easy steps:
- 1. You’ll be asked questions about family and personal history, medications and any other issues your doctor feels are important.
- 2. You’ll also be asked to undress from the waist up to begin the exam.
- 3. In some cases, you may be asked to hold your arms up, lean forward or backward, or make specific movements.
- 4. Your doctor will look for changes in size or shape, or for any lumps, rashes or redness. They’ll also check the area underneath both your arms, and will gently press around your nipples.
- 5. If there is any liquid discharge from your nipples during the test, it might be collected for further testing.
If There are Concerns
If there’s something unusual, the approach from your doctor may vary depending on what they find. In some cases, changes in size or shape of your breasts simply signal natural aging changes.
In other cases, and especially if a lump is detected that may signal cancer, your doctor may take immediate action. Lumps are about the size of a pea when they’re first detected in most cases, and your doctor will note the exact size and shape. There may be times where they can diagnose the lump as benign (not harmful) just by feeling it, and if there’s any doubt, they’ll schedule a mammogram test.
Breast self-exams are also vital – and watching your doctor during your in-office exam is a great way to pick up potential lumps or problems on your own.
Self-exams are not the same as those performed by a professional, though, and you shouldn’t assume that your own self-exam is enough. For healthy breasts, follow the recommended guidelines for professional examination while also performing monthly self-exams.
Obstetricians/gynecologists at Revere Health OB/GYN provide a full range of healthcare services to women throughout all stages of their lives including; puberty, child-bearing years, menopause.
“Doctor’s Breast Exam.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/guide/doctors-breast-exam
“Clinical Breast Exam.” National Breast Cancer Foundation. http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/clinical-breast-exam