Ask the Expert: Breast Self-Care

H.E. Guy Burman, MD, General Surgeon

H.E. Guy Burman, MD, is medical director of the Breast Care Center at Cheshire Medical Center. A General Surgeon, he performs most breast surgeries at the Medical Center and is renown among patients for his thoughtful, compassionate care. We sat down with Dr. Burman to ask his medical advice on breast health, self-exams, and cancer screenings.

What are the keys to breast self-care?

Breast self-care has a lot to do with overall personal health. To minimize risk, it is important to maintain a normal weight, as estrogen can be created in fat cells. A healthy diet and exercise also help. Maintain a good awareness of your breasts and alerting your provider of changes are very important as well.

What are your recommendations for the frequency of mammograms?

There are different recommendations as to when people should have their first mammogram. Knowing your own personal family history, and asking relatives about that history, can help people know if they should be under a closer screening regimen.

Some doctors recommend screening every year or every other year, beginning at the age of 40. Most recommend an annual mammogram and an annual clinical breast exam through your primary care physician or women’s health provider. It’s important to note that men can get breast cancer as well, so men should also be doing their own routine self-exams.

How often should self-exams be done?

We used to recommend picking a day of the month that’s important to you, so it’s easy to remember, and do the exam on that day. For women, it is best to do your self-exam within a week or two after the menstrual cycle ends, as breasts are at their quietest at that point and you will get the best exam result. There is some data out there now that says breast self-exams on a regular basis have not been shown to make a difference. But getting to know your own body can’t possibly be a bad thing.

What should a patient look for when doing a self-exam?

Nipple retraction or a change in the contour of the breast or a palpable lump in the breast. Sometimes a patient will also have persistent crusting of the nipple. It is very uncommon for breast tenderness to be associated with cancer. But often a patient will have some tenderness and will find a lump because they are examining their breasts more carefully because of that tenderness.

When should someone contact their physician?

If you find a lump or any of the things I just described, if the breast seems to be getting red, or there is a change to the breast that is new for you, you should be evaluated. Finding abnormalities early is always best, as breast cancer is most treatable when found early. The nice thing now, compared to when I started treating it more than 20 years ago, is that we are able to do more about breast cancer and more to help patients, while actually doing less and less from a surgical standpoint.

Breast cancer resources