- Kerry C. Bullerdick, M.D.
Should I do monthly breast exams? How do I do a self breast exam?
This is a more complex question than you might think. A routine breast self-exam was once recommended to be performed by all women every month. This was based on the idea that self-screening may help detect breast abnormalities sooner compared to only once a year screening with your doctor. However, recent data has suggested that routine breast self-exams may not help detect breast cancer or breast problems sooner and, surprisingly, may actually result in an increased risk of un-necessary medical and surgical procedures on women’s breasts.
As of 2019, breast self-exams are no longer recommended by several major societies, including the American Cancer Society and the United States Preventive Services Task Force. There are even recommendations by some societies that physicians no longer perform screening breast exams and instead rely only on mammograms when women are of age. This can all be confusing, both to you, and to physicians. What I tell my patients is that there are several different societies and research institutions interested in preventing breast cancer that use their own data, or their own interpretation of data, to come up with plans that maximize detection of breast cancer or breast problems while minimizing risks of unnecessary, invasive and/or costly procedures to patients. Thus, we do not have one recommendation, we have several, and not all of them agree on what is best for optimizing breast health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has compiled the recommendations from some of the most prestigious organizations in the following linked document if you are interested. CLICK HERE to learn more. As more data becomes available in the future, recommendations will likely continue to change.
At this time, I think the decision to do a monthly breast self-exam should be a decision made between you and your doctor after reviewing your personal and family history and having a discussion about the benefits and risks of breast self-exams. If a decision to do a breast self-exam is made, your doctor will review how to perform one.
Please be aware that a breast self-exam is different than having a general idea of your breasts. It is always a good idea to know how your breasts look and feel as you would any other part of your body. If something looks or feels wrong, it may be, and you should always follow up with your doctor.
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