Testing for Breast Cancer

by Katelyn Schwanke
(last updated September 5, 2008)

Personal and physician regulated breast cancer testing should be done on a regular basis. There are two major ways to test for breast cancer, mammograms and self breast exams.

A mammogram is like an x-ray in its use of low dose ionizing radiation which allows for images of the breast tissue to be projected in picture form for analyzing. During the procedure, a doctor will gently compress your breast to even out the tissue in order to more clearly analyze the tissue; the doctor will taken images from all angles to ensure a thorough and effective examination. You should be careful not to apply deodorant or lotion the day or your examination to avoid any spots appearing on the x-ray. It is recommended that you have an examination done at least once a year and up to five times a year.

Mammograms should be supplemented by self breast examinations. Each month women of all ages, age 20 up, should do a self breast examination. Self breast examinations are easy and can be done following the "7 P rule":

  • position ( stand in front of a mirror)
  • perimeter (feel entire breast)
  • palpate (feel for lumps or masses)
  • pressure (palpate with increasing levels of pressure)
  • pattern (use a pattern for consistency in order to avoid missing an area of the breast)
  • practice (become aware of how health tissue feels)
  • plan (understand the process of what to do if you do find a mass or lump)
  • If you do notice a lump or change in tissue your doctor will want to confirm your findings by doing a mammogram prior to proceeding with treatment. Out of a thousand women about 70 will be called back for potentially positive results, however only two percent of those women will have breast cancer.
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