Studies have shown that early detection of breast cancer improves the chances of a cure. That in itself is the most important reason to make an appointment today for a breast exam or mammogram.
You don't have to go far from Lexington for an exam, as there's Mount Auburn Hospital's The Hoffman Breast Center in Arlington and Cambridge. Also nearby, there's Winchester Hospital Breast Care Center in Woburn and the Mass General Cancer Center at Bethke at Emerson Hospital in Concord.
Boston also has a number of top-rate women's health facilities for such exams. Among them are Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center's Avon Foundation Comprehensive Breast Evaluation Center, the Boston Breast Diagnostic Center, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's Breast Cancer Treatment Center, the BreastCare Center at Beth Israel Deaconness Center, Boston Medical Center and many more.
Dana-Farber even has a mobile mammography van. Boston Medical Center offers free mammograms and breast exams to qualifying patients through the Women's Health Network. For more information call 617-414-1818.
Going for an exam can be nerve-wracking. To better understand the importance of exams, here's helpful information that explains the process, when you should go and why:
There has been a lot of heated debate in the research and medical communities about the usefulness of breast self-exams in detecting breast cancer in the early stages. One cancer research organization has even said it’s a myth.
The American Cancer Society’s guidelines state that women don’t need to do these exams irregularly, let alone regularly.
So, does that mean you shouldn’t do those breast self-exams in the shower anymore? Well, not quite.
There is enough compelling data to indicate that self-exams are still effective in helping us stay aware of any changes that may be a cause for concern. But the American Cancer Society also recommends a new technique based on expert opinion and research that helps improve breast awareness.
The major difference between this technique and the traditional one is that this one is done lying down, not standing up. Experts say it’s easier to feel breast tissue this way as it spreads more evenly and is at its thinnest.
The next step is to place your right arm behind your head and use three different levels of pressure to feel all of 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.
Move around the breast in an up-and-down pattern, starting at an imaginary line drawn straight down your side from the underarm. Move across the breast to the middle of the chest bone or breast bone.
Placing your left arm over your head, repeat this process for the other breast.
The next part needs to be done standing up. Check for the following issues while standing in front of the mirror. Place your hands firmly on your hips during this procedure.
- A lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
- Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
- Change in the size or shape of the breast
- Dimpling or puckering of the skin
- Itchy, scaly sores or rashes on the nipple
- Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
- Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
- New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away
Finally, raise your underarm to check for any soreness or pain. And that’s it! You’re done for this month!
Clinical breast exams
The next type of breast exam is not optional and should be done regularly. It’s called the clinical breast exam. This basically means getting your breasts checked by a qualified health professional like a nurse or a doctor.
It's a great way to ensure that everything’s okay, as well as an opportunity to discuss wellness options with your doctor and ask questions, address concerns and clarify doubts. You can also review your self-examination technique and get important feedback.
If you’re in your 20s and 30s, the American Cancer Society recommends that you understand the importance of the clinical breast exam and make sure that it’s part of your periodic health check. You should preferably undergo an exam once every three years.
However, after the age of 40, it’s important for women to undergo annual mammogram screenings. A mammogram is basically an X-ray of your breast. It’s especially useful in cases where there appear to be no breast problems. Mammogram screenings have proven to be most effective in breast cancer detection and are thus an important part of any breast cancer awareness program.
If you haven’t done these tests yet, get started now! Since October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, you can find reasonably priced and convenient options for mammograms and clinical breast exams.