The American Cancer Society changed its stance on breast self-exams. Before, they were required by all women, regardless of risk. Now, for most women, these exams are optional. Why the change? After studying their effects, the ACS found that self-exams sometimes caused anxiety unnecessarily until a more accurate mammogram could be scheduled. Those at high risk for breast cancer are still urged to perform the monthly exams.
Average Risk vs High Risk
Most women are at average risk for breast cancer and can begin screening at age 45 with regular mammograms. Those at higher risk include women who have a family history of breast cancer or who have tested positive for cancer-causing genes and mutations. Other breast conditions may increase risk as well like fibrosis or non-cancerous tumors.
Lifestyle risks should also be considered and include alcohol consumption, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, or have had breast implants. Hormones can play a factor in risk and those who have never been pregnant or never breastfed could be at higher risk. Ask your doctor if you should be performing breast self-exams if you have been on hormonal contraceptives or hormone therapy.
It’s recommended that yearly mammograms beginning at age 45. This is for women of average risk, however, and your provider may recommend them sooner. There is no right age for at-risk women and you and your provider can work together to determine when the best time would be.
Know Your Body
Even if you aren’t doing regular breast self-exams, it’s important to know your body. Only you can know your breasts the best and if you notice changes, you should discuss them with your provider. A lump, discharge, or rash aren’t the only things to watch for, though, and you may see a change in color, texture, or temperature.
Talk to Your Provider
If at any time you are concerned about your possible risk for breast cancer or any symptoms that you have, you should talk to your provider right away. They can also help you decide if regular breast self-exams are necessary and make sure you know how to perform them correctly.
To schedule your Well Woman exam with one of our caring providers, call My Texas MD at (281) 252-8600. This exam focuses on all areas of a woman’s reproductive health and is a part of routine preventative care.