Breast Health Basics


There are a few things you can do in order to keep on top of your breast health.

  • Know Your Body. The most important thing a woman can do is be aware of how her breasts normally look and feel during different times of her monthly cycle. Medical professionals no longer hold fast to the idea of scheduled, structured, monthly breast self-exams, but more on the notion that a woman should know her body. If scheduled self-exams are the best way for you to do that, great! Keep doing what works for you. If you would rather just pay attention while soaping up in the shower then check things out in the mirror before you get dressed, that’s ok too. The important thing is that you know YOUR normal, and talk to your doctor about any changes.
  • Mammograms. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends starting yearly mammograms at age 40 for those at average risk of developing breast cancer. If you are at higher risk, ask your health care provider what tests are right for you.
  • Clinical Breast Exams. Clinical breast exams by your health care provider should be part of a periodic health exam, about every three years for women in their 20s and 30s, and every year for women 40 and older.
  • Choose a Healthy Lifestyle.
    • Maintain a healthy weight.
    • Exercise.
    • Limit alcohol consumption and don’t smoke.
    • Limit postmenopausal hormone use.
    • Breastfeed, when possible.


  • A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area.
  • Breast or nipple pain.
  • A change in the size or shape of the breast.
  • A nipple turned inward.
  • Scaly, rippled, red, or swollen skin on the breast, areola, or nipple.
  • Nipple discharge (fluid).
  • A new pain in one spot that does not go away.

Remember, even if you find a lump or have other breast changes, it does not mean that you have breast cancer.  Some of these symptoms can be attributed to a woman’s monthly cycle or other less serious conditions, such as mastitis. Confirmation of cancer can only be determined by microscopic examination of the tissue.

What if I don’t have health insurance?  You may qualify for a free mammogram through the Virginia Department of Health’s Every Woman’s Life Program.  Call 1-866-395-4968 to see if you qualify.

Know your body.

Be your own health advocate!



Facts & Figures updated January 2015.  Page updated 12/8/2015.