October is national Breast Health Awareness Month, which makes this question very timely. To answer it, we turned to Yale Cancer Center breast surgeon Anees Chagpar, M.D., director of the Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven. She writes:
“There has been a lot of debate about the value of self-breast exams in detecting breast cancer. While the evidence has been varied regarding the importance of self-breast exams in finding cancer early, many still recommend self-breast exams for women to become familiar with their own bodies, so they can detect lumps that may be different from their usual breast texture.
“In addition, particularly for women who are younger than age 40 (when routine annual mammography generally starts), self-breast exams can help women to find new breast lumps, skin changes, or nipple discharge that may be the first signs of breast cancer.
“Some women, however, feel uncomfortable doing monthly self-breast exams or may be anxious when finding ‘lumpy bumpy breast tissue’ that may be completely normal. Your doctor can help by doing yearly clinical breast exams and recommending that women get regular mammograms beginning at age 40.”