Breast exams are performed during routine well-woman visits and are also an integral aspect of self-care. The team at Grace Obstetrics and Gynecology can assist you in developing habits around breast health.
What Is the Point of a Self-Exam?
Women of all ages are encouraged to perform self-examination of breast tissue on a monthly basis. These exams include palpation of the breasts both in a seated or standing position, as well as lying down. Visual examination is also recommended for monthly self-exams. These brief assessments accomplish two important objectives. First, the self-exam breeds familiarity. You know your body better than anyone else, which means you can be the first person to detect changes that warrant further diagnostic testing. The secondary objective is clear. The earlier breast changes are detected, the earlier an accurate diagnosis can be made, and early treatment is crucial for breast cancer diagnoses.
What Symptoms Should I Be Aware Of?
Aside from lumps, there are skin symptoms that you should look for during self-exams. These include dimpling, thickening, ulcers or sores, redness that cannot be explained, and scaling or reddening of the nipple.
If the Self-Exam Is So Important, Why Are Routine Clinical Exams Also Performed?
Your healthcare provider performs recommended breast examinations using the same technique that you use at home but may include various positions that increase observation. This comprehensive exam includes visual examination of the skin and of breast symmetry. After age 40, or if you have certain risk factors, clinical exams also include mammography, which provides an x-ray type view of the breast tissue. This observation enables healthcare providers to visualize abnormalities that cannot be felt or seen with the naked eye.
What If My Mammogram Is Abnormal?
If a mass is detected during mammography, your healthcare provider will want to perform further diagnostics to determine if the mass is solid. Additional tests such as ultrasound, MRI, and/or biopsy may be scheduled.
A Lump Can Be Felt, What Do I Do?
First, please do not panic about a breast lump. Statistics suggest that 8 out of 10 lumps are benign; not indicative of breast cancer. If you see or feel a lump during a self-exam, just contact a Grace Obstetrics and Gynecology office near you for further examination.
Breast lumps generally fit into one of three categories:
- Non-proliferative lumps are a grouping of normal cells. If these cells form a cyst, the growth may be drained. Fibroadenoma lumps are another example of normal cell growth. This type of lump may dissipate naturally over time. If the lump continues to grow, standard excision may be necessary.
- Proliferative lumps that have not become typical might be monitored for growth, or may be excised. This type of lump indicates an increased number of cells that may signal an increased risk of breast cancer in the future, but are not cause for immediate alarm.
- Atypical hyperplasia is a collective of slightly abnormal cells. This lump is not the same as breast cancer. But, it does indicate a higher risk for the disease. After removal of the lump, further diagnostics and follow-up may be recommended.
What If My Breasts Are Generally “Lumpy?”
A general sense of lumpiness could indicate that your breast tissue is simply a bit denser than average. The condition is referred to as fibrocystic breast tissue. If your healthcare provider determines that you have dense breast tissue, you may be advised to be extra-diligent in the performance of your self-exams, as well as recommended mammography.
What Causes Breast Pain?
Women have been taught to be highly aware of changes in breast form and sensation. Breast pain can cause alarm but doesn’t have to. There are benign causes of breast pain, and they fall into two categories:
- Cyclic breast pain is associated with the menstrual cycle. Fluctuations in hormone levels can lead to sensitivity, tenderness, and even swelling just before menstruation. Hormonal contraceptives such as birth control pills, HRT, and menopause are also potential reasons for benign breast pain.
- Noncyclic breast pain that is not associated with the monthly cycle may indicate infection or injury. However, certain medications may cause pain, as can sheer breast size.
If you develop breast pain, speak with your healthcare provider.
What Is Nipple Discharge?
During your monthly breast exam, you can assess for nipple discharge by gently squeezing this anatomy. If you are not pregnant, but notice a milky, clear, greenish, or blood-tinged fluid, schedule clinical evaluation with your health care provider. There are several reasons that discharge may occur, such as hormonal variance, medication, or infection. We can help you determine the cause of discharge, and provide treatment, if necessary.