Changing Recommendations about Breast Self-Exams

Have you heard about the changing recommendations about breast self-exams? Confused about what you should do? We talked to Dr. Lindsay Petersen, a surgeon in the breast oncology department at Henry Ford Cancer Institute, about the latest health recommendations, and how you may reduce your risk of cancer.

In the past, doctors recommended women do routine monthly exams of their breasts, noting any changes. However, in 2015, the American Cancer Society issued new recommendations about breast cancer screenings and breast exams. In short, the ACS recommended women with an average risk of breast cancer start getting yearly mammograms at age 45 (instead of age 40) and that routine breast self-exams (and those performed by your doctor at a checkup) were no longer needed.

“When we first recommended monthly self-exams, they were thought to aid in early detection of breast cancer, or to aid in mammography,” says Dr. Petersen. Instead, routine self-exams can increase anxiety and spur unnecessary doctor visits and workups that cause even more anxiety. “The data hasn’t shown that breast self-exams, independent of mammograms, increase breast cancer detection or reduce mortality from breast cancer,” says Dr. Petersen.

Pay Attention to Your Breasts

However, skipping routine self-exams doesn’t mean ignoring your breasts completely — you still want to pay attention to any changes. “If you notice a mass you haven’t noticed before, or a change in the skin, or in how the nipple appears — like if it’s newly retracted, you want to get that checked out,” she says. “If you feel [or see] something or your partner notices something, that should be checked out by your doctor.”

In addition to noticing changes, talk to your doctor about your overall risk for getting breast cancer. “It’s crucially important to know your risk — to know your family history, not just relatives who have had breast cancer but who have had ovarian cancer [which can increase your risk of developing breast cancer] and about how young they were when they had it,” says Dr. Petersen. Other factors, like the age of your first period, the number of children you’ve had, your body weight, and whether you take hormonal replacement therapy, all affect your risk of the disease.

The bottom line: you can skip the routine monthly self-exams, but pay attention to the shape, feel, and look of your breasts. If you notice something new or different, see your doctor — and talk to her about your overall risk and how you can reduce it.


Categories: Get Healthy

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