The American Cancer Society recommends that a woman have a breast exam by a doctor or nurse about every three years if you are in your 20's and 30's. This exam should be done every year, beginning at age 40.
Monthly self-breast examination and annual physician examination are both important tools for early detection of breast cancer. Eighty percent of newly diagnosed breast cancers are seen on mammography, but approximately 25% of these cancers are found by physical examination.
What are you looking for in SBE? When doing self-breast exam, you are looking for a CHANGE, something that is different from your exam the month before. In doing monthly SBE, a woman becomes familiar with the lumps and bumps of her breasts and remembers how the breasts feel each month. During the exam, she should note if any area has grown or feels different from the previous monthly exam. If an area has changed, she should contact her physician. Digital imaging will be recommended to evaluate palpable lumps.
The majority of areas questioned on self-breast exam turn out to be normal tissue or fibrocystic changes. Lumps in the breast that shrink (or come and go) are not related to cancer. Unless a woman is taking chemotherapy, cancer will not decrease in size.
When should you do SBE? Perform self-breast exam once a month, usually about 7-10 days after the start of your menstrual period. Your breasts are less tender or swollen at this time. If you are no longer having periods, choose one day of the month and perform the exam on the same day of each month.