Performing a breast exam isn't by itself harmful. However, there are some risks, including:

  • Anxiety caused by finding a lump. Most of the changes or lumps women find in their breasts aren't cancerous. Still, finding something suspicious in your breast can make you anxious about what it may mean. You may endure several days of worry until you can see your doctor.
  • Tests and procedures may be necessary to check out lumps or changes. If you discover a suspicious lump, you may end up having a procedure to sample breast tissue for examination (core needle biopsy). If it turns out the lump was noncancerous (benign), you might feel that you've undergone an invasive procedure unnecessarily.
  • Overestimating the benefits of self-exams. Although breast exams don't reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer, they can still help in earlier detection of a breast abnormality that may be due to cancer. Because of this, breast exams are now considered optional by most organizations, such as the American Cancer Society.

Discuss the benefits and risks of breast exams with your doctor. Screening for breast cancer usually involves a combined approach that includes:

  • Breast awareness that you do through breast self-exams
  • Clinical breast exams by your doctor
  • Mammography

Used together, these screening methods can increase your chances of finding breast cancer at an early, more treatable stage.

Jul. 02, 2011