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Anatomy of the Breast

The breast is made of two different structures — lobes and ducts.

Each breast has 15 to 20 different lobes, which have even smaller sections called lobules. These end in tiny bulbs that can produce milk.

All are connected by thin tubes called ducts.

Each breast also has blood and lymph vessels.

The lymph vessels carry an almost colorless fluid, lymph that helps the body fight disease.

Lymph nodes near the breast are usually located under the arm pit, above the collarbone and in the chest.

When should you have a mammogram?

The American Cancer Society recommends yearly mammograms starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health.

Some women — because of their family history, a genetic tendency or certain other factors — should be screened with an MRI in addition to a mammogram. The number of women who fall into this category is small — less than 2 percent of all the women in the U.S.

Talk with your doctor about your history and whether you should have additional tests at an earlier age. It may be recommended that patients at high risk or with a family history of breast cancer should begin screenings earlier than age 40.

Performing a Breast Self Exam

At the same time each month, check for any change in the normal look or feel of your breasts.

Look for a lump, hard knot or skin that thickens or dimples.

Report any changes to your doctor or nurse. Go for regular breast exams and pap tests. Ask about a mammogram.

Check your breasts using these steps:

Click on the images below to see a larger picture on how to perform a breast self examination.

Source: Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

Lying Down

Place a pillow under your right shoulder. Put your right hand under your head. Check your entire breast area with the finger pads of your left hand. Use small circles and follow an up and down pattern. Use light, medium and firm pressure over each area of your breast. Repeat these steps on your left breast.

Before a Mirror

Check for any changes in the shape or look of your breasts. Note any skin or nipple changes such as dimpling or nipple discharge.

Inspect your breasts in four steps:

  • Arms at side.
  • Arms overhead.
  • Hands on hips pressing firmly to flex chest muscles.
  • Bending forward.

In the Shower

Raise your right arm.

With soapy hands and fingers flat, check your right breast.

Use the method described in the "Lying Down" step above.

Repeat on your left breast.

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