By: Denise L. Johnson Miller, M.D., FACS
For decades, breast self-exams were routinely recommended as an early detection tool for breast cancer. But recent research shows that self-exams do not increase breast cancer survival rates, and in some cases, they may cause harm by leading to unnecessary biopsies and emotional stress. Because of this research, many major health organizations no longer recommend a self-exam as a screening tool for women who have an average risk of breast cancer. A woman with an average risk has no personal or strong family history of breast cancer, doesn’t have a breast cancer gene mutation, and has not received radiation therapy to the chest before the age of 30, among other factors.
Even if research shows no clear benefits for self-exams for cancer screening, every woman should still be very familiar with the normal look and feel of her breasts and nipples. If you notice anything out of the ordinary—like localized breast pain (not related to menstrual cycle), redness, hard masses or strange discharges—immediately bring it to your doctor’s attention.
As for preferred cancer screening guidelines, mammograms continue to be the method of choice, with specific recommendations based on your age and risk factors. Most women should begin getting mammograms at age 40, based on information from major oncology groups such as NCCN, WHO and ACS, with women who have high risk factors beginning earlier. For the best breast cancer screening plan for you, talk to your doctor at your next annual checkup or sooner if you think you are at high risk.
Dr. Johnson Miller is medical director, breast surgery, Hackensack Meridian Health Cancer Care. Her office is located in HOPE Tower, 1st Floor, 19 Davis Ave., on the campus of Jersey Shore University Medical Center (JSUMC), in Neptune, NJ. To make an appointment with Dr. Johnson Miller, call 732-263-7960. To schedule a mammogram at JSUMC, call 732-390-0033.