October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is a potential threat to all women that should not be taken lightly. This is especially true for women with an elevated risk of developing breast cancer due to a family history of the disease or certain genetic mutations. This is why it is so important to keep up with your annual breast exams and screenings. But not every woman, especially younger patients, knows what to expect from their breast exam. That’s why our board-certified gynecologists have taken some time to explain just what annual breast exams should entail.
The first component of the annual breast check-up is undergoing a clinical breast exam (CBE). A clinical breast exam is performed by a healthcare professional, like your board-certified gynecologist, who is trained to recognize different types of abnormalities and potential warning signs of breast cancer like lumps, skin dimpling, and rashes. During the exam, you may be asked to raise your arms over your head, let them hang by your sides, or press your hands against your hips in order to let your provider look for differences in the size or shape between your breasts. Your nipples may also be checked to look for signs of any abnormal discharge.
The second half of the equation is receiving an annual mammogram starting at age 40. Unfortunately for younger women with denser breasts, noticing breast cancer during a mammogram can be more challenging since both more dense breasts and cancer appear white during screening. A mammogram is a screening method that uses x-rays to look for suspicious areas on the breast tissue. Before the screening begins, the breast is exposed to a small dose of ionizing radiation that helps produce an image of the breast tissue. Mammograms complement clinical breast exams by showing lumps and other abnormalities before they can be seen or felt.
Performing monthly breast self-exams can be an excellent way for women to take stock of the condition of their breast health between their annual exams. A breast self-exam is a screening technique women can perform at home to help check for lumps, tumors, cysts, or other abnormalities that can occur in a woman’s breasts. The majority of breast lumps found in women are discovered during breast self-exams. Self-exams are especially important for younger women who may not be receiving annual mammograms yet. Keep in mind that breast self-exams are meant to supplement annual clinical breast exams and mammograms, not replace them.
Although it can be impossible to truly prevent breast cancer, staying on-schedule with your annual breast exams and performing regular breast self-exams can go a very long way towards detecting breast cancer before it has a chance to grow and spread throughout the body. Here at Gynecology Associates of Gwinnett, a breast exam is part of an annual well woman exam designed to assess the reproductive and overall health of each patient. To request an appointment for a well woman exam, please contact Dr. Kristine Gould at Gynecology Associates of Gwinnett today or follow us on social media for even more information, news, and more.