Medical Q&As

Breast examination - how often?

I wonder could you help me. I am a 40-year-old female and I am terrified of breast cancer, mainly because I am getting older and we are told that there is a 1 in 10 or 12 chance of getting this disease. My main question is relating to breast examination. We are told to examine our breasts each month, but then we also hear that we are to be aware of any changes. I find that I examine myself almost daily and it is really getting me down as I find that it takes ages for me to shower as I am never really sure whether or not I have found something suspicious or not, and then I worry. I have been to my G.P. about this and she said that I was pressing my fingers too deeply. I also get lumpy and very sore breasts about 14 to 10 days prior to my period. My question really is how often should you check because if you only check once a month then surely if something suspicious is there is it not better to get it seen to straight away?

The scenario you describe suggests to me that you are in danger of developing an obsession regarding breast examination. Your fear of breast cancer is driving you to spend far too long examining your breasts as well as performing that examination far too often. I can understand your fear of cancer; a fear that is shared by many women but this fear is leading you into extraordinary behaviour. It is not necessary to spend a long time in the shower everyday in order to examine your breasts. I also think that such frequent examination may actually confuse you about what is normal and what is abnormal. You could get trapped very quickly in an obsessional pattern of behaviour. Looking at the broader issue of your general health it would be preferable for you not to examine your breasts at all if you cannot curtail the frequency of examination. Self examination once a month is all that is required.