Most medical organizations no longer recommend routine breast self-exams because research has not shown that breast self-exams improve cancer detection or outcomes. However, most organizations recommend becoming breast aware or familiarizing yourself with the normal look and feel of your breasts. If you notice any change in your breasts, tell your OB-GYN immediately.
Mammograms, on the other hand, are effective in detecting breast cancer. Years before physical symptoms, a mammogram may be able to detect abnormalities in the breast. Early detection means better outcomes: when breast cancer is detected early, the 5-year survival rate is 99%.
Although breast self-examinations are no longer necessary, mammograms are essential to women’s health. The American Cancer Society recommends annual mammograms for women 45 and older. Other organizations suggest starting mammograms between 40 and 50 and recommend every one to two years. Women at high risk for breast cancer may need earlier detection with other tests, such as ultrasound or MRI.
Breast cancer screening should be individualized, with a decision made between the patient and her healthcare provider.