After age 40, women should have a breast exam by a health professional every year.
CBE is a complement to mammograms and an opportunity for women and their doctor or nurse to discuss changes in their breasts, early detection testing, and factors in the woman's history that might make her more likely to have breast cancer.
There may be some benefit in having the CBE shortly before the mammogram. The exam should include instruction for the purpose of getting more familiar with your own breasts. Women should also be given information about the benefits and limitations of CBE and breast self exam (BSE). Breast cancer risk is very low for women in their 20s and gradually increases with age. Women should be told to promptly report any new breast symptoms to a health professional.
Women should be told about the benefits and limitations of BSE. Women should report any breast changes to their health professional right away.
Research has shown that BSE plays a small role in finding breast cancer compared with finding a breast lump by chance or simply being aware of what is normal for each woman. Some women feel very comfortable doing BSE regularly (usually monthly after their period) which involves a systematic step-by-step approach to examining the look and feel of their breasts. Other women are more comfortable simply looking and feeling their breasts in a less systematic approach, such as while showering or getting dressed or doing an occasional thorough exam. Sometimes, women are so concerned about "doing it right" that they become stressed over the technique. Doing BSE regularly is one way for women to know how their breasts normally look and feel and to notice any changes. The goal, with or without BSE, is to report any breast changes to a doctor or nurse right away.
Women who choose to do BSE should have their BSE technique reviewed during their physical exam by a health professional. It is okay for women to choose not to do BSE or not to do it on a regular schedule. However, by doing the exam regularly, you get to know how your breasts normally look and feel and you can more readily detect any signs or symptoms if a change occurs, such as development of a lump or swelling, skin irritation or dimpling, nipple pain or retraction (turning inward), redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin, or a discharge other than breast milk. Should you notice any changes you should see your health care provider as soon as possible for evaluation. Remember that most of the time, however, these breast changes are not cancer.
Women at moderately increased risk (15% to 20% lifetime risk)(link to moderately high risk below) should talk with their doctors about the benefits and limitations of adding MRI screening to their yearly mammogram. Yearly MRI screening is not recommended for women whose lifetime risk of breast cancer is less than 15%.
Women at high risk include those who:
Have a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
Have a first-degree relative (parent, brother, sister, or child) with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, but have not had genetic testing themselves
Have a lifetime risk of breast cancer of 20% to 25% or greater, according to risk assessment tools that are based mainly on family history (such as the Claus model - see below)
Had radiation therapy to the chest when they were between the ages of 10 and 30 years
Have Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Cowden syndrome, or hereditary diffuse gastric cancer, or have first-degree relatives with one of these syndromes
Women at moderately increased risk include those who:
Have a lifetime risk of breast cancer of 15% to 20%, according to risk assessment tools that are based mainly on family history (see below)
Have a personal history of breast cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), atypical ductal hyperplasia (ADH), or atypical lobular hyperplasia (ALH)
Have extremely dense breasts or unevenly dense breasts when viewed by mammograms
If MRI is used, it should be in addition to, not instead of, a screening mammogram. This is because while an MRI is a more sensitive test (it's more likely to detect cancer than a mammogram), it may still miss some cancers that a mammogram would detect.
For most women at high risk, screening with MRI and mammograms should begin at age 30 years and continue for as long as a woman is in good health. But because the evidence is limited regarding the best age at which to start screening, this decision should be based on shared decision making between patients and their health care providers, taking into account personal circumstances and preferences.
Several risk assessment tools, with names like the Gail model, the Claus model, and the Tyrer-Cuzick model, are available to help health professionals estimate a woman's breast cancer risk. These tools give approximate, rather than precise, estimates of breast cancer risk based on different combinations of risk factors and different data sets. As a result, they may give different risk estimates for the same woman. For example, the Gail model bases its risk estimates on certain personal risk factors, like age at menarche (first menstrual period) and history of prior breast biopsies, along with any history of breast cancer in first-degree relatives. The Claus model estimates risk based on family history of breast cancer in both first and second-degree relatives. These 2 models could easily give different estimates using the same data. Results obtained from any of the risk assessment tools should be discussed by a woman and her doctor when being used to decide whether to start MRI screening.
It is recommended that women who get screening MRI do so at a facility that can do an MRI-guided breast biopsy at the same time if needed. Otherwise, the woman will have to have a second MRI exam at another facility at the time of biopsy.
There is no evidence right now that MRI will be an effective screening tool for women at average risk. MRI is more sensitive than mammograms, but it also has a higher false-positive rate (it is more likely to find something that turns out not to be cancer). This would lead to unneeded biopsies and other tests in many of these women.
The American Cancer Society believes the use of mammograms, MRI (in women at high risk), clinical breast exams, and finding and reporting breast changes early, according to the recommendations outlined above, offers women the best chance to reduce their risk of dying from breast cancer. This combined approach is clearly better than any one exam or test alone. Without question, breast physical exam without a mammogram would miss the opportunity to detect many breast cancers that are too small for a woman or her doctor to feel but can be seen on mammograms. Although mammograms are a sensitive screening method, a small percentage of breast cancers do not show up on mammograms but can be felt by a woman or her doctors. For women at high risk of breast cancer, like those with BRCA gene mutations or a strong family history, both MRI and mammogram exams of the breast are recommended.