Doing breast exams helps you learn the normal feel and appearance of your breasts. That makes it easier to notice subtle changes, should they occur.

Say, for example, you feel a noticeable area of thickening in the upper area of your breast, next to your arm. If you've become familiar with how your breasts look and feel, you know your breast usually feels completely smooth in that area. Without a tactile memory from having done frequent breast exams, though, you might not notice this difference. Detecting such a change should prompt you to see your doctor.

Finding a breast lump when it's small increases the chance for a cure, if the lump is determined to be cancer. A smaller cancer may mean you have better surgical and other treatment options, compared with a cancer that is larger.

A study of women undergoing breast cancer surgery found that despite having had frequent screening mammograms, about 40 percent of breast cancers were discovered as the result of lumps or suspicious changes found during breast exams by the women themselves.

To gain the greatest benefit from regular breast self-exams, ask your doctor to review your technique at your next checkup.

Jul. 02, 2011