A breast exam is designed to detect unusual lumps or nodules in your breast tissue. The breast exam is performed by our doctor as a preventive health care service once per year for your health.
The purpose of a breast exam is to screen for breast cancer. The breast exam only takes a few minutes. During the exam, our physician can also show your how to do a breast self-exam at home between visits to our doctor. Knowing how to do your own exams can help you catch changes in your breast tissue.
How a Breast Exam Works
To get a breast exam, you remove your shirt and bra. Our physician asks you to lie down on your back on an exam table. Our doctor gently pushes down into the breast tissue beginning at the outer area of the breast near the armpit. The nipple is gently touched to check for any type of discharge. The same process is repeated for the second breast. If an unusual lump or nodule is discovered through the manual breast exam, you may be referred for diagnostic imaging of the breast, which is referred to as a mammogram. Routine mammograms are not typically recommended until you reach the age of 50 years, unless you have a personal or close family history of breast cancer or genetic testing shows you have a breast cancer gene.
You can do breast self-exams at home so that you can become familiar with how your breast tissue normally feels. This allows you to more easily recognize a change in your breast tissue. The breast exam works best when it is performed at the middle of your menstrual cycle. The breasts may be more painful during your period. If you are breastfeeding, the breast exam can still be performed.
Who Needs a Breast Exam?
A breast exam can be used to screen for and diagnose several different problems with the breast. The primary reason that a breast exam is performed by our gynecologist is to find any unusual lumps that could be an early stage of breast cancer. A breast exam may also be done if you are experiencing a discharge from your breast outside of lactation. In lactating women, a breast exam can be done if you have a clogged milk duct or a painful area. The exam can detect problems such as mastitis, which is a painful infection of the breast.
Every woman should have a clinical breast exam performed once per year, starting at the age of 18 to 20 years. These early exams help to establish a normal baseline for your breast tissue. If you have a mother, sister, aunt, or grandmother with breast cancer, the exams may begin at an earlier age and be performed more frequently. If you have breast pain or a discharge from the breast, you may also need a breast exam to help diagnose the condition.