Better Breast Exam

Better Breast Exam

Better Breast Exam Research shows a thorough breast exam takes five minutes to 10 minutes, and women themselves find more than 80 percent of all cancerous lumps. The problem is many women don’t know how to perform an effective self-exam and many doctors aren’t as thorough as they should be. The proper technique can make all the difference.

Several times a month Jean Ashby trades in her business suit for a hospital gown. She acts as a patient. She helps clinicians learn how to accurately look for breast cancer. "My best friend got it about four years ago," Ashby says, "I knew that it was my reason, my mission, to help in any way I could."

The new technique, called vertical strips, has clinicians examine the breast as a rectangle, instead of using the standard circular method. "If you were going to mow your lawn, that is a pentangle, or a rectangle, you wouldn't mow it in circles, you would mow it in strips," says Nancy Prouser, MS, a training program manager at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.

Better Breast ExamClinicians start with a synthetic breast model, learning to examine every cubic inch of tissue, using light, medium and deep pressure, never lifting their fingers to make sure they find any lumps. Then, comes the real test -- an actual person like Ashby. “Basically, I learn to give them feedback as to whether they’re making dime-sized circles, whether they’re spiraling down all the way to the chest wall,” she says.

Most lumps are benign, but the earlier a cancerous lump is detected, the more likely that cancer can be cured.

About a dozen state health departments and medical centers in the United States teach the vertical strips method. A private company called MammaCare also teaches it.

If you would like more information, please contact:

Nancy Prouser, MS
OHSU Cancer Institute