This article is part of a series of information in response to the COVID-19 crisis and is valid through June 2020.
Among the many other services that are being delayed due to Covid-19, you may be told that your routine screening mammogram will be delayed this year. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the American Cancer Society, and the Susan G Komen Foundation all recommend that most women begin mammography to screen for breast cancer at age 40. If you are a woman aged 40-65 with no family history of breast cancer and no abnormal mammograms in your past, it will likely be OK that your mammogram is delayed this year, according to Susan G Komen. Study findings show for women 50-74, the benefits of mammography screening every year are similar to the benefits of mammography screening every 2 years. In fact, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends mammography screening every 2 years for women ages 50-74. The American Cancer Society recommends mammography every 2 years for women, starting at 55.
If you are unable to schedule a routine mammogram in the next few months, you can use self breast exams to help screen for changes in their breast tissue. You can read about how to do a good self breast exam at breastcancer.org’s website.
For easy reference, here’s a quick guide for a breast exam:
Know your baseline breast tissue! Get familiar with your breasts, if you aren’t already, so changes are easy to detect if they happen.
Try to do an exam monthly, If you’re still getting your period, it’s important to do it at the same time each month. This is because your breast tissue can change over the course of your menstrual cycle. The “best” time to check is right after a period.
There are three parts to a breast exam: Inspection (looking at your bare breasts from the tips of your armpits to the base of your breasts and being alert to changes in the skin like dimples or puckering, nipples facing different directions, or spontaneous discharge from your nipples if you aren’t breastfeeding), self-exam while standing (use the pads of three fingers to make small circles across the entirety of the breast tissue from your armpits to the bases of your breasts. Always press your fingers into the tissue so that you are touching your chest wall as you move across your breasts), and self-exam while lying down (same technique as for self-exam while standing).
Abnormal findings are usually small masses or lumps of tissue that can be described as any of the following: painless, small (like the size of an eraser head), immobile (meaning that as you move your fingers over the tissue, the mass or lump stays put), or unilateral (meaning that you can only find it on one breast and not the other). If you think you have an abnormal finding on a self breast exam, you should contact your primary care provider and discuss whether or not you should be seen in the clinic for an exam–or referred for a mammogram more urgently.
Doing self-breast exams will help you become an expert of your own breast tissue, and you will be taking responsible steps for your own health. Self-breast exams are a healthy habit that will keep you on top of your breast health for years to come.