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Breast Health: A Three-Step Plan for Preventive Care

Sep 24, 2015

The thought of having breast cancer can be frightening, which makes it tempting to avoid this sensitive subject. But being proactive is a woman’s best bet in the fight against breast cancer.

Routine preventive care is the best way to keep you and your breasts healthy, since the detection of breast cancer at its earliest stages provides the greatest opportunity for successful treatment.

The Three-Step Plan

Step 1: Breast Self-examination (BSE)

All women, ages 20 and older, should perform breast self-exams to familiarize themselves with their breasts so any changes are more quickly identified. BSE should be done regularly at the same time each month. Changes may include development of a lump, swelling of the breast, skin irritation or dimpling, nipple discharge other than breast milk, or other nipple abnormalities (pain, redness, or turning inward). If any of these changes are noticed, see your health care provider as soon as possible for evaluation.

Step 2: Clinical examination

A breast examination by a doctor or nurse trained to evaluate breast problems should be part of a woman’s physical examination. A clinical breast examination is very similar to the procedure for breast self-examination. Women who perform BSE regularly will be prepared to ask questions and have any concerns addressed during a clinical exam. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends:

Between ages 20 and 39: a clinical breast examination by a health professional every 3 years.
After age 40: a clinical breast examination by a health professional every year.
(If you need to select an OB/GYN, visit our Find A Doctor section.)

Step 3: Mammography

Mammography is a low-dose x-ray of the breasts and is the most common imaging technique. Mammography can detect cancer before a lump becomes large enough to be felt.

The American Cancer Society recommends yearly screening mammograms for all women ages 40 and older. Women who may be at increased risk for breast cancer should talk with their health care provider about having their mammograms at an earlier age or more frequently.

The mammography department at Three Rivers Medical Center offers digital mammography, technology that allows images to be magnified and adjusted on a computer screen for better visualization.