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Breast Checks

Women should perform a monthly self-exam of their breasts. Any lumps or other abnormalities noted in the breasts should immediately be reported to the doctor. Depending on their risk factors for breast cancer, women over the age of 40 may need to have a mammogram performed every one to two years.

The current recommendations are for two yearly mammograms from the age of 50 years or from 40 years for women with a strong family history of breast cancer. Routine screening is done by BreastScreen WA. Women are encouraged to be 'breast aware' and to self-examine regularly so that any changes can be detected and discussed with your doctor. It is also important to report symptoms such as nipple rash and bloody discharge to your GP as these may require further investigation.

Breast problems are the most common health concerns among women and can affect women at any age. In women, the development of breasts usually begins around puberty and they may undergo various changes throughout the lifecycle, especially during menstrual periods, pregnancy, lactation and advancing age. Other than the normal physiological changes, the breast may also undergo a few other changes that may be a cause of anxiety among women.

Breast checks include self-inspection, clinical examinations and the use of diagnostic devices. It has been proven that breast examinations are essential for early detection of breast cancer and are also useful for breast cancer prevention.

Types of breast changes

The common pathological breast changes can be categorised into non-cancerous and cancerous changes.

Non-cancerous changes include generalised breast lumpiness, enlarged lymph nodes, painless, movable and firm lumps, presence of cysts, breast pain, or abscesses or nipple discharge.

Cancerous changes in the breast include invasive ductal carcinoma and lobular carcinoma.

Symptoms of the breast cancer

The symptoms of breast cancer include a persistent irregularity or a lump within the breast or near the underarm, swelling around the breast, changes in the appearance of the breast or nipple, nipple discharge, which may be blood-stained or clear fluid, hardness or dimpling felt over the breast or any unusual changes in the breast.

Methods of breast checks

The most popular methods of breast checks involve breast self-exam (BSE), clinical breast-exam (CBE), and advanced imaging such as mammograms. Other diagnostic measures such as ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can also be used. These methods are commonly used for diagnostic purpose, for early detection of breast cancer.

Mammograms

The benefits of a mammogram include early detection of breast changes through high-quality images that provide a clear picture of the involved tissue and help detect all types of lumps. Annual mammogram screenings in women over 40 years of age, significantly reduce the mortality associated with breast cancer.

Clinical breast-exam

This method of breast check is performed by a physician to identify any unusual changes in the breast or presence of any lumps. It involves a careful physical examination of the breast, which helps in detecting any abnormality and to devise an appropriate treatment plan.

Breast self-exam

In breast self-exam, a woman checks her own breasts to identify any abnormalities or unusual changes. It includes observation and physical examinations of the breast. Breast self-exam is simple and can be easily performed at home. Your family history and your risk for developing breast cancer are factors that decide the age at which you need to initiate breast self-exam. Always inform your doctor about any change in the appearance of your breasts or any related abnormality. Breasts may swell and become tender at different stages of your menstrual cycle, so plan the breast self-exam at a convenient time every month to avoid discomfort.

Ultrasound and MRI

Ultrasound and MRI are often used to confirm an examination finding as well to evaluate any abnormalities detected during mammography. MRI is one of the most sensitive diagnostic techniques for detecting breast cancer.