There is often a lot of confusion about the difference between a clinical breast exam (CBE) and a self- breast exam (BSE).   Breast health and early detection of potential problems have been hot topics for many years thanks to an increased understanding of prevention methods in the fight against breast cancer.  While a self-breast exam is never a substitute for an exam performed by a trained and qualified medical professional , learning the process of self-breast exam may help improve your chances of detecting any early changes in the tissue that would require evaluation by a doctor—and ensure that you receive the best screening in the form of a mammogram if needed.

A clinical breast exam (CBE) is an exam completed by a physician or trained medical professional by using the hands to examine breast tissue for possible abnormal changes.  Right now, the American Cancer Society recommends that the CBE be completed at least once every three years for women in their 20’s and 30’s and every year for women over 40.

While both exams do have their limits, they should never be overlooked.  BSE has been shown to help women find changes in the breasts earlier than for women who don’t do them at all, and some studies have shown that the CBE exam may even help detect changes before a mammogram.  And of course, I will say up front that should you notice, or suspect a change in your breasts, make sure to schedule an appointment with Dr. Hessel for an evaluation as soon as possible.

So let’s sort out the basic details that you should know for yourself.  Do your best to stay on your exam schedule and make sure to see Dr. Hessel for your regular exam as your individual case requires.   Set a goal to complete your self-breast exam once a month during the week after your period when breast swelling is lowest and you will be able to find any changes.  Remember—this isn’t rocket science but instead that your goal is to get to know your breasts and what’s normal for you so that if you find a difference you will recognize it and take the correct action.

There are so many schedules for so many tests…the colonoscopy, the mammogram, pap smears, bone mineral scans…it can all be overwhelming.  So remember this—once a month, on your own schedule and on your own time, your breast health is in your own hands.  Resources abound to help remind you too—many online sites offer a downloadable breast self-exam reminder card that you can post in the bathroom or laminate and hang in the shower.  There’s never a better time than the present to get started on the road to better self-care. If you are still unsure, are behind on your annual exam, or just feel like you need more information, feel free to make an appointment with Dr. Hessel.