Breast self-awareness education

Also known as: Breast self-examination
At Providence, achieving optimal breast health and providing world-class treatment for breast cancer are equal priorities in our continuing mission to improve women’s health. Providence Breast Centers offer comprehensive access to state-of-the-art diagnostic imaging techniques to ensure accurate and timely diagnoses.

Ask An Expert

Ask an Expert: Breast self-examinations

Q. I’m a young woman who tries to do breast self exams (BSE's) every month. But I often put them off because they make me so nervous. I just heard that not all health care organizations recommend monthly BSE's. What do you say?

Answer from the expert staff of breast cancer research at the Robert W. Franz Cancer Research Center at Providence Portland Medical Center:

Ask an Expert: When is nipple discharge a concern?

Q: “I am concerned about some discharge from one of my breasts. If I squeeze the nipple, I get a dark greenish fluid. Sometimes it also occurs spontaneously. I mentioned this during my last physical exam, but my mammogram appeared to be OK. Should I do anything else, or just wait for my next mammogram? If it’s nothing to be concerned about, what is causing it?”

Forms Instructions

New Guidelines for Mammography Screening

Breast health experts at Providence Health & Services recognize the importance and complexity of counseling women on breast health and screening recommendations. In November 2009, the US Preventive Services Task Force issued updated guidelines for breast cancer screening. These new recommendations have been met with uneven acceptance from various foundations, professional organizations and breast health providers.

We have reviewed these new recommendations carefully and have engaged a number of concerned providers, physicians and women’s health advocates in order to gain consensus around this important issue. In general, Providence endorses the thorough, professional and evidence-based effort put forth by the USPSTF and recognizes these are difficult issues to analyze.

Proprietary Health Article

Breast cancer chemoprevention in the spotlight again

After a tentative start, chemopreventive therapies might return to the forefront.  A recent international study reports promising results. – By Ali Conlin, M.D., medical oncologist

Recommended Resource

American Cancer Society

American Cancer Society’s home page with links to all types of cancer, symptoms, treatment options, statistics trials and ways to contribute. 

Your breasts change as you go through different stages of your life. It's important to learn what is normal for your breasts. This is called breast self-awareness. The key to breast self-awareness is knowing how your breasts normally look and feel. This helps you to notice any changes.

Many experts now say that women should focus on breast self-awareness instead of doing a breast self-examination (BSE). These experts include the American Cancer Society, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Some experts even advise not teaching women to do BSEs. That’s because research hasn’t shown a clear benefit to doing BSEs.

Breast self-awareness isn’t about following a certain method and schedule. Breast self-awareness is knowing what's normal for your breasts. That way you can notice even small changes right away. If you see any changes, report them to your healthcare provider right away.

Changes to look for

Call your provider if you find any changes in your breasts that concern you. These changes may include:

  • A lump

  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk, especially a bloody discharge

  • Swelling

  • A change in size or shape

  • Skin irritation, such as redness, thickening, or dimpling of the skin

  • Swollen lymph nodes in the armpit

  • Nipple problems, such as pain or redness

What if I find a lump?

Contact your provider if you find lumpiness in one breast, feel something different in the tissue, or feel a definite lump. Sometimes the lumpiness may be due to menstrual changes. But there may be reason for concern.

Your provider may want to see you right away if you have:

  • Nipple discharge that is bloody

  • Skin changes on your breast, such as dimpling or puckering

It’s normal to be upset if you find a lump. But it’s important to contact your provider right away. Remember that most breast lumps are benign. This means they are not cancer.

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