Why A Breast Exam?
Your Breasts Are Changing
A woman’s breasts are always changing. Breasts are made up of glands, fat and fibrous (thickened) tissue. They respond to changes in levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone during your menstrual cycle. Hormones cause a change in the amount of fluid found in your breast, this may make fibrous areas of the breast painful. Your breast also changes during pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause. You may also notice changes if you use hormonal contraception, if you are on hormone therapy or if you have breast implants.
You Are at Risk for Breast Cancer
Since women of every age are at risk for developing breast cancer it is important to notice the changes in your breast and discuss any concerns you have with your Doctor. Regular self-exams can help you be aware of what is “normal” for you. Most breast problems, especially in younger women, are benign (non cancerous). Common symptoms include: lumps (which may be felt in one exact place or throughout the breast), discharge from the nipple, and tender areas.
Doctors recommend a three-fold approach to screening for breast problems – breast self-exam, a Doctor’s exam of the breasts and mammography. Unless there are symptoms present that warrant early mammography most Doctors recommend that you have your first mammogram at the age of 40.
When to have your first Mammogram
If you have a strong family history of breast cancer be sure to discuss this with your Doctor. You may need to begin screenings before the age of 40. Other risk factors for breast cancer are:
- personal history of cancer of the endometrium, ovary or colon,
- older age,
- no pregnancies or pregnancy later in life,
- early menstruation (younger than age 12),
- late menopause (older than age 55),
- never breastfed a child,
- postmenopausal obesity,
- alcohol intake,
- recent hormone therapy or recent us of birth control pills.
Remember, most breast problems are benign, but breast cancer can occur at any age. Visit your doctor promptly at the first sign of any problems. Early detection is the key to survival.