Despite media buzz about a March 2012 study that found breast self-exams to be ineffective, experts agree that mammography and self-exams are still one of the best ways to spot breast cancer and get prompt, proper treatment.
"What self-checks do is allow women to understand what's normal for them," says Dr. Debbie Saslow, Ph.D, director of breast and gynecologic cancer at the ACS. While performing a self-check might not always lead to early breast cancer detection, understanding what looks and feels normal to you will tip you off to when something is not right.
"The wisest thing is to know your body well. Don't be afraid to examine yourself; embarrassment is a dangerous barrier. Don't hesitate to talk to your doctor about any concerns," adds Dr. Stephen Marcus, cancer researcher and author of Complications of Cancer.
If you don't have a strong family history or find any irregularity in your breasts, Dr. Thompson echoes the ACS, advising that "most women should have a baseline mammogram at age 40 and then discuss with their doctor about the frequency of tests thereafter." She also suggests yearly clinical breast exams. "You should just make it part of your annual check-up because doctors are trained to find anomalies that you might not recognize yourself."