Breast Cancer Team

Why Perform a Breast Self-Examination?

Reasons to Give Yourself a Breast Exam

Why examine your own breasts? Because breast self-examination (BSE) is a life-saving habit. It is the best defense we have against breast cancer – and breast cancer is second only to lung cancer as the leading cancer killer of women. The American Cancer Society "Facts and Figures" (1996) now shows one out of every nine women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute estimates one in eight American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer by age 85.

The incidence of breast cancer in women grew from the early 1970’s to 1987, by a rate of four percent a year. Since 1987, the American Cancer Society reports the incidence has leveled off at about 110 cases of breast cancer per 100,000 women (barely over one tenth of one percent (0.1%) increase. Early detection and prompt treatment have increased the survival rate. The five-year survival rate for localized breast cancer has risen from 78 percent in the 1940’s to 96 percent in 1996. If the breast cancer has not spread to other areas, the survival rate approaches 100 percent. BSE is a key to early detection.

The following are some of the reasons WHY you should make BSE a regular, monthly habit:

  • BSE is for women of all ages. Some doctors recommend you begin practicing BSE as soon as your breasts start developing. This will help you become familiar with your normal breast structure and learn to notice any unusual changes. The American Cancer Society, in its 1996 directive, recommends monthly BSE for women age 20 and older. As an adult woman, you should continue BSE throughout your life including during pregnancy and after menopause. Now is the right time to begin practicing BSE.

  • BSE is reassuring. Once you have learned how your breasts feel normally, each month’s re-examination may confirm you have not found any changes to report. And if any unusual changes do occur, monthly BSE will alert you to them at the earliest stage, so that you can seek immediate advice from your doctor. The encouraging fact is that not all changes in your breasts mean disease, and not all breast diseases are cancer; 80 percent of all breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous). Of those lumps that do prove to be malignant (cancerous), 95 percent are found by women performing BSE.

  • BSE is easy and convenient. Examining your breast takes only 10 to 15 minutes each month, costs nothing, can be done in private and can save your life.

  • BSE can be life saving. Although cases are rare under age 35, and most common over age 50, EVERY woman is at risk from breast cancer; breast cancer cannot be prevented, only treated -- and cured, if treated soon enough. Research shows that the tumors found by women practicing BSE are half the size of those discovered by doctors in non-BSE practicing women. And the smaller a breast cancer tumor when discovered, the greater chance of effective treatment and cure. If all women would do BSE, see their doctors for regular cancer checkups, and have mammograms as recommended, 95 percent of all breast cancers could be halted before they become fatal.