Just as many things in a woman’s body change as she advances through the stages of life, her breasts are no exception. Breasts are made up of glands, fat and thickened tissue. In response to hormonal fluctuations, the amount of fluid in a woman’s breasts will change. Changes will not only happen in response to her monthly menstrual cycles, but they will also occur as she goes through puberty, pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause. Many lumps, tenderness and other changes are benign, normal and simply the result of these hormonal changes. However, because of the prevalence of breast cancer in women, appropriate screening measures and breast self-awareness are important components of breast health.
Tools such as screening mammograms, clinical breast exams and breast self-exams can help detect breast cancer before it has progressed. Screening is most effective when the following techniques are used together.
- An X-ray technique that is used to examine the breasts
- Recommended annually for women aged 40 and older (certain risk factors might warrant earlier screening)
Clinical breast exams:
- Performed by a health care provider at the patient’s well-woman visit
- Recommended every 1-3 years for women aged 29-39 and annually for women aged 40 and older
- Recommended monthly
In addition to these screening methods, it is important to have a general awareness of how your breasts normally look and feel. That way, you can notice even small changes and report them to your health care provider. Lumps, nipple discharge and tenderness could be symptoms of a greater problem and it’s important to visit your health care provider if you experience any of these symptoms.
Additional resources for breast health:
- Screening mammography at Virginia Women’s Center
- Preparing for your mammogram
- Debunking the myths of mammography