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Breast Cancer

Breast Self-Exams Detect Potential Cancer Masses

Cancer experts say that breast self-exams can be an important - and easy - way for women to detect potentially cancerous breast masses, and avoid becoming one of the more than 40,000 women who die each year from breast cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 211,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year. Although increased public awareness and education has reduced the number of women dying from breast cancer, the risk of developing the disease is still one in seven.

Breast self-exams are effective in detecting 90 percent of all breast masses, but not all these masses will be cancerous. By becoming familiar with the contours and feel of their breasts, it's easier for women to proactively check for abnormalities that may indicate breast cancer.

Seventy-five percent of cancerous breast tumors are found in two areas: behind the nipple (34 percent) and in the outer quadrant of the breast near the armpit (41 percent). Any abnormality detected in the breast, nipple, skin or armpits should be examined by a physician.

Women should perform a monthly breast self-exam starting at age 20 to check for lumps or tissue thickenings - preferably several days after her menstrual cycle ends - and have a clinical breast exam every three years. Women aged 40 or older should have an annual clinical breast exam and mammogram, an X-ray of the breasts and mammary glands used to screen for breast problems.

Consistency is key, so it is suggested that you choose a day that is easy to remember, like the first day of the month or a birth date. A three-step approach is recommended for performing a thorough breast self-exam:

This article originally appeared in UC Health Line (10/4/05), a service of the NetWellness.org Academic Health Center Public Relations Department and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2006.

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Last Reviewed: Sep 19, 2006

College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati