M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
Date: October 2008
Duration: 0 / 03:47
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The following is a presentation of The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.
We know that the earlier a cancer is detected the greater the chances it can be successfully treated. M. D. Anderson recommends that women should have an annual clinical breast exam and beginning at age 40, an annual mammogram to screen for breast cancer. But is there something more we should be doing to be proactive about our breast health?
For many years, women have been encouraged to practice breast self-examination and health care providers have taught us a special technique to use. We’ve been taught this technique during clinic visits, in special breast self examination classes and in print materials, such a breast self-exam shower cards. A great deal of effort was made to teach us the special technique of breast self-examination and encourage its regular use.
However, the effectiveness of this technique had never been studied in a formal, randomized, controlled trial until the 1990s. Finally, a trial was conducted in Shanghai, China, and the women were placed into one of two groups: one group received extensive education about breast self-exam techniques and the other group of women received no formal instruction about breast self-exam techniques. The women in both groups were asked to report any abnormal findings, such as breast lumps. The study concluded that women who had received the formal and extensive education about how to perform a breast self-exam were no more skilled at finding breast lumps than the women who had received no formal education about breast self exam.
It is critically important to understand that this study shows that being aware of and reporting changes in your breasts to your health care provider is of key importance, not the technique by which you discover those changes. There is no right or wrong way to check your breasts. Women know their bodies better than anyone else and whatever way we examine our breasts, it is just as good as any formal breast self-exam technique.
M. D. Anderson explains this concept as breast self-awareness. It is important for women to be aware of their bodies and not to feel intimidated by whether they feel able to perform a special technique.
Additionally, it is not clear that there is optimal timing for checking your breasts. For premenopausal women, it may be easier to check your breasts the week after your menstrual period because that is when your breasts are likely to be less tender. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that a postmenopausal woman, the population at highest risk for breast cancer, should be checking herself on a monthly basis. We don’t know how often is necessary; it may be every three weeks, it may be every six weeks, it could be every other day.
So again, breast self-awareness solves this problem. Simply be aware of your body and if you notice any changes, notify your health care provider. What does breast self-awareness look like? It’s perfectly fine to check your breasts on a regular basis, but also be aware of your body as you go about the normal activities of daily living, like showering and dressing. It’s likely that at those times you can become aware when something feels differently. A breast self-exam implies that there is a specific technique that should be performed to determine if a problem exists, while breast self-awareness empowers women to know their bodies and know when they need to seek additional medical evaluation.
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