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Breast Cancer Screenings & Symptoms

Early Detection Saves Lives

More than 96 percent of women with breast cancer are cured if it is detected and treated early. Following the guidelines given here improves the chances that breast cancer can be found at an early stage and treated with success.

Breast Cancer Screening Begins at Home

While busy women go above and beyond to watch out for any health concerns when it comes to their loved ones and family members, many often forget to take care of themselves.

Early detection of breast cancer starts with making breast care a priority, and breast care starts at home with a monthly self breast exam. This monthly exam is the most important step in early diagnosis. No one knows your body like you do. You might think that you only need to look for bumps or lumps, but changes in breast shape, discharge, hardening/thickening of the tissue, or new focal pain are all symptoms to lookout for. These monthly self breast exams will allow you to know your body best, and to be able to better determine if there has been a change. 

Breast Self-Exam (BSE): Breast self-exam (BSE) is an option for women starting in their 20s. The American Cancer Society recommends the following step-by-step approach:

  • Lie down and place your right arm behind your head. The exam is done while lying down, not standing up. This is because when lying down the breast tissue spreads evenly over the chest wall and is as thin as possible, making it much easier to feel all the breast tissue.
  • Use the finger pads of the three middle fingers on your left hand to feel for lumps in the right breast. Use overlapping dime-sized circular motions of the finger pads to feel the breast tissue.
  • Use three different levels of pressure to feel all the breast tissue. Light pressure is needed to feel the tissue closest to the skin; medium pressure to feel a little deeper; and firm pressure to feel the tissue closest to the chest and ribs. A firm ridge in the lower curve of each breast is normal. If you're not sure how hard to press, talk with your doctor or nurse. Use each pressure level to feel the breast tissue before moving on to the next spot.
  • Move around the breast in an up and down pattern starting at an imaginary line drawn straight down your side from the underarm and moving across the breast to the middle of the chest bone (sternum or breastbone). Be sure to check the entire breast area going down until you feel only ribs and up to the neck or collar bone (clavicle).
  • There is some evidence to suggest that the up-and-down pattern (sometimes called the vertical pattern) is the most effective pattern for covering the entire breast, without missing any breast tissue.
  • Repeat the exam on your left breast, using the finger pads of the right hand.
  • While standing in front of a mirror with your hands pressing firmly down on your hips, look at your breasts for any changes of size, shape, contour, or dimpling, or redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin. (The pressing down on the hips position contracts the chest wall muscles and enhances any breast changes).
  • Examine each underarm while sitting up or standing and with your arm only slightly raised so you can easily feel in this area. Raising your arm straight up tightens the tissue in this area and makes it harder to examine.

Women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any new breast changes to a health professional as soon as they are found. It is also important to notify your doctor right away if you notice any of these changes:

  • swelling of all or part of the breast
  • skin irritation or dimpling
  • breast pain
  • nipple pain or the nipple turning inward
  • redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
  • a nipple discharge other than breast milk
  • a lump in the underarm area

Clinical Breast Exams

The second line of defense in breast health care is to make sure that you receive a clinical breast exam, which is a breast exam performed by a doctor once a year. Additionally, if you are over 40, you should be getting a mammogram every year. If you have a strong history of breast cancer in your family, your doctor may advise that you begin mammography earlier.

Breast related medical imaging exams (which include tests such as mammograms, ultrasounds and MRIs) have changed the fight against breast cancer by providing women like you with the option of early detection. Catching cancer early is the key to breast health. It starts when you make an appointment at an imaging facility, like one of the many BayCare imaging service locations around town, and by making your breast health a priority.

For a referral to one of our board-certified physicians, please visit our online physician finder or call the BayCare Customer Service Center at (727) 462-7500.