With the continued technological advancements in the fight against breast cancer, many in the medical professional say the first line of defense against the disease is self-examination.
The American Cancer Society recommends that all women should be familiar with their breasts and surrounding areas to allow them to recognize any changes.
Locally, Dr. Melinda Staiger, director of Women’s Imaging at in West Islip, said self breast examinations are best performed by women who have received basic instruction in the technique by a health care provider or other reliable source of information.
“These exams are more accurate when performed the week after the woman’s menstrual cycle to make detection of breast lumps and thickenings easier,” she said. “It is recommended that the woman try to examine her breasts at a consistent time each month to make monthly comparisons easier.”
For women with thick or lumpy breast tissue, Staiger suggests keeping a written diagrammatic record of where lumps are located and how large they are, which makes learning one's own breast pattern easier. Any new findings should be brought to a physician's attention.
In addition, self-breast exams also involve a visual inspection in front of a mirror to detect visible changes and to assess the breast for symmetry as well as palpation in the supine and erect positions. A light lubrication of the skin can aid in the detection of lumps, she said.
Although Staiger noted that some studies have shown little or no decrease in breast cancer mortality from self-exams alone, many women are the first to discover cancerous lumps that arise between clinical breast exams by their doctors.
“All newly discovered lumps and other symptoms should be brought to the physicians attention,” she said. “The decision of what type of testing may be necessary to decide whether a new physical symptom is due to a benign (non-cancerous) process or to a possible cancer is best made by a dedicated breast imaging radiologist in consultation with the patient's referring physician.”