Do All Women Need Clinical Breast Exams?
The clinical breast exam, performed by your provider, is a very important part of the yearly well woman exam. It should be done for women of all ages to look for any evidence of breast disease. A clinical breast exam is different than a self-exam, because it’s done by your doctor. In addition to your annual exam, you should also do monthly self-exams.
Breast exams are used to find conditions in people who do not have signs or symptoms of cancer or other diseases. This allows early detection and treatment.
Why Are Clinical Breast Exams Important?
In the United States, one in eight women will develop breast cancer by age 75 years. Regular breast screening can help find cancer at an early and more curable stage. Screening also can find problems in the breasts that are not cancer.
How Is a Clinical Breast Exam Performed?
Your ob-gyn will examine your breasts during your annual examination. This is called a clinical breast exam. The exam may be done while you are lying down or sitting up. The breasts are checked for any changes in size or shape, puckers, dimples, or redness of the skin. Your ob-gyn will feel for changes in each breast and under each arm.
How Often Should a Breast Exam be Done?
For women who are at average risk of breast cancer and who do not have symptoms, the following are suggested:
- Every 1-3 years for women aged 25-39 years
- Every year for women aged 40 years and older
Become Breast Self-Aware
Breast self-awareness focuses on having a sense of what is normal for your breasts so that you can tell if there are changes—even small changes — and report them to your doctor or other health care professional.
Breast self-awareness is important. Taht’s because breast cancer often is found by a woman, herself. This happens in almost one-half of all cases of breast cancer in women aged 50 years and older.
In women younger than 50 years, more than 70 percent of cases of breast cancer are found by the women themselves.
How to Talk With Your Doctor About Breast Health
If you are 30 years or older, you can start the conversation with these questions:
- What are my chances of having breast cancer?
- When should I start getting regular mammograms?
- How often should I get them?
You can ask more specific questions based on your age. If you are 40 years or older:
- What are the pros and cons of getting mammograms before I turn 50?
- What are the pros and cons of getting mammograms every 2 years instead of every year?
If you are older than 75 years:
- Do I need to keep having mammograms?
You and your doctor or other health care professional should share information, talk about your wishes, and agree on when and how often you will have a clinical breast exam.