Aradia Women's Health Center is dedicated to ensuring long, healthy and happy lives for all women. Breast health is an important part of this. We encourage our patients to schedule a professional breast exam yearly. Although self-examinations do not take the place of professional exams, the American Cancer Society also recommends that women examine their breasts monthly. In 1998, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, over 40,000 American women died of breast cancer. More than 150,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year.
Women aged 40 and older should have a clinical breast exam and a mammogram once a year. If you have a female relative who was diagnosed with breast cancer, you should have your first mammogram five years earlier than she was diagnosed. In other words, if your mother was diagnosed at age 42, your first mammogram should be at age 37. In very young women (less than 30 years old), sometimes an ultrasound will be used to tell the difference between a fluid and a solid mass.
Breast health is an important ongoing part of your personal relationship with your body. Get comfortable with your breasts!
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Breast Exams at Aradia Women's Health Center
What you may find
Making an Appointment
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Breast Exams at Aradia
If you come to Aradia for a breast exam, try to schedule your exam for a time in your cycle when your breasts are not very tender. For many women this means avoiding the week before their periods. When you arrive, make sure to let the health care provider know if you have noticed any changes in your breasts. This includes size changes, changes in the skin of the breasts, any lumps in the breasts or armpits or chest, pain, fluid coming from the nipples, breast implants, changes in sensation, or difficulty with breastfeeding. The provider may ask you questions about your family history, your pregnancies, any medications you are taking (including hormonal birth control), your menstrual cycles and your diet. She will then ask you to lie on your back with one arm over your head while she performs the same exam that is described above. If you have a concern about a particular area on your breast, she will compare it with the other breast. If she feels that anything in your breast might be abnormal, she will give you a list of breast specialists to contact for further testing. If you have concerns about mammography or ultrasonography, she can refer you to radiologists who specialize in breast imaging. If an abnormal mass such as a cyst or tumor is found, she will be in touch with your specialists to help with your care.
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The best time to do a monthly self-examination is a week after your period ends (when your breasts are least likely to be tender or swollen). The more familiar you are with your breasts, the more likely you are to notice any changes. Look at your breasts in a mirror with your arms hanging straight down. Then raise your arms over your head and look again. Finally, bend your elbows, put your hands on your hips and flex your chest muscles to press your hands into your hips. Look for asymmetry (one breast pointing off to the side or in a different direction), puckers or dimples, scaly skin patches, or nipple discharge (clear or bloody).
Next, lie on your back and feel your breasts, using the pads of your fingers rather than the tips. Move your hand in a spiral around the breast, moving from the outside in toward the nipple. Also, check your underarms, the area between breast and underarm, and the upper chest up to your collarbone. Look for any hard lumps or thick masses. If you find a lump, check the opposite breast to see if there is a matching lump on it; breast cancer is rarely symmetrical. Note whether the lump is sore or painless. Check it again in a week or two to see if there have been any changes during your menstrual cycle. If you find any lumps, it's important to have them professionally checked.
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What you May find
Many women have naturally lumpy breasts, which may be painful at certain times of the month. These are called fibrocystic breasts. Fibrocystic breasts often run in families; ask your mother, sister, aunt or grandmother if she had lumpy breasts. If you have fibrocystic breasts, it's especially important to be familiar with your own lumps and bumps so that you will notice any changes, but fibrocystic breasts are no more or less likely to become cancerous than non-fibrocystic breasts. Foods containing substances called methylxanthines, such as coffee and chocolate, may worsen inflammation. For many women, taking oral contraceptives can reduce the pain. Contraceptives do not increase your chance of getting breast cancer, and will also reduce your chance of developing ovarian and endometrial cancers.
A cyst is a fluid-filled sac. This can cause a painful lump in your breast which gets larger and smaller during your menstrual cycle as the fluid increases and decreases. If you find a cyst, your healthcare provider can numb the area and draw off some of the fluid. This is done both to make you less sore and to check the fluid for any blood. Cysts that recur after being drained, or have bloody fluid, should be removed.
Sometimes women notice fluid coming from their nipples. Most times this is not due to cancer, but it should always be checked. If the fluid is milky and you are not nursing, you may have an endocrine problem (an imbalance of hormones). If the nipple discharge is bloody rather than milky, you should also have it checked.
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- National Cancer Institute Breast Cancer Information: www.cancer.gov/cancerinfo/types/breast
- American Cancer Society: www.cancer.org
- National Women's Health Information Center: www.4woman.gov/faq/cbreast.htm
- Intercultural Cancer Council: iccnetwork.org/cancerfacts/
If you have any questions or would like to make an appointment, please do not hesitate to contact us.
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