Breast self-exams and mammograms can help detect changes in breast tissue and even breast cancer, but how do breast implants affect those exams? Breast care providers say recommendations and processes are exactly the same.
Breast self-exams are important because they help you learn and understand your own breast structure. This tissue has a natural architecture that can feel lumpy and bumpy. If the tissue changes, you’ll be alerted to the difference through regular self-breast exams.
“It’s important to remember that the breast is a gland and unlike most glands in our body, it’s one we can actually feel,” said Ann Sommer, OB-GYN physician assistant at Marshfield Clinic Health System. “When people feel their breast tissue, it’s so different than any other part of you, which can make it scary.”
Doing breast self-exams once a month will help familiarize yourself with the way your breasts feel on a regular basis. This can be an adjustment if you get breast implants. Of note is that the guidelines for breast self-exams are the same whether you have implants or not.
A breast self-exam can be done standing up or lying down. Use your finger pads and make a circular motion around your breast tissue at different pressures. This helps you feel the different layers. Next, feel into your arm pit, closest to your chest for lumps or lymph nodes. Finally, stand in front a mirror and put your hands on your hips. Bend forward and let the breast tissue hang. Look for skin changes that include dimpling, thickening or color changes.
“When you become familiar with a lump in a specific spot, then you know when it changes,” said Sommer. “Personally I think implants make exams easier because some breast implants are placed behind the breast tissue, making the glandular breast tissue fairly easy to feel.”
Mammogram imaging is typically two views of a breast. Individuals with breast implants need four views and the positioning becomes even more important.
“The implants do add some challenges because of how they look on the mammogram picture and because they can hide smaller lesions,” Sommer said. “Implants make evaluating all of the natural breast tissue more difficult and compressing the breast can be more challenging.”
Mammogram technicians are trained to treat each individual breast as unique and your breast health is dependent on clear photos. Their advice is to stay calm, take a deep breath and rest assured that a mammogram will not ‘pop’ or rupture your implant.
“The techniques and equipment have progressed, so this isn’t your mother’s mammogram,” Sommer said. “The uncomfortable pressure is short-term and if you listen to your technician, it’s not that bad.”
Whether you have breast implants or not, the recommendation for a mammogram is the same. Everyone should get an annual mammogram beginning at age 40 and earlier if you have a family history of breast cancer.
Read additional Shine365 blog posts about mammograms and breast health.