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My Gyno Didn’t Give Me a Breast Exam This Year. What’s Up?

By Fitoru | 28 August 2018
mom holding newborn baby hands with pink ribbon

Cold hands and exam tables. Those awful paper gowns that tear the second you move or shift position. The annual trip to the gyno is no woman’s favorite event of the year, but it is crucial to protecting long-term health and quality of life.

As unpleasant as this experience might be, it helps to know what to expect. So, you might be interested to learn that many gynecologists are no longer performing breast exams as part of their regular routine. Read on to learn why this long-standing policy has changed and what you can do to protect your health moving forward.

The Value of the Breast Exam

For years, women were encouraged to see their doctors for annual breast exams and conduct regular self exams at home. This process involves you or the doctor moving hands in a circular or linear direction, searching for lumps or other irregularities in the breast tissue. Additionally, a breast exam is designed to assess:

  • Breast size and shape changes
  • Skin color, texture, and swelling
  • Skin dimpling or puckering
  • Inverted nipples
  • Rashes or soreness

A breast exam should not be painful and may help improve women’s peace of mind. However, in recent years, doctors have begun to wonder whether this test is truly a reliable indicator of breast health.

Breast Cancer Screening

What the Science Says

Research suggests that women who perform breast self exams may have the same risk of developing and dying from breast cancer as those who do not undergo testing. According to an article published in the Atlantic, multiple studies have shown that women who perform self exams find more benign growths, and that the removal of them yields additional risk. Also, women who neglect to perform these exams often feel bad about themselves. In light of these findings, the Susan G. Komen group and other breast cancer research organizations have ceased recommending breast self-exams, and some doctors have started to adjust their practices as well.

How Breast Tumors Are Detected

While women might not be performing self exams, they and not their doctors are often the ones to detect breast tumors and irregularities. This detection generally occurs during normal activities such as showering, dressing, or having sex. While it’s important to have a doctor evaluate any abnormal lumps or bumps in breast tissue, finding one isn’t necessarily cause for concern. According to Breastcancer.org, most women have some lumpy breast tissue. Moreover, just 20% of American women who have a breast biopsy are found to have cancer.  

Protecting Your Long-Term Health

Whether you find a lump or your doctor does, the important thing is not to jump to conclusions. And if your doctor doesn’t perform a breast exam and you would like one, don’t hesitate to ask. Additionally, you should talk to your doctor about when to start undergoing mammograms and breast ultrasounds if your breasts are especially dense. According to the American Cancer Society, women ages 40 to 44 should be given the option to start breast cancer screening mammograms. Be an advocate for yourself and protect your health in the coming years.

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