There are a few different types of breast exams, including a self-performed one and screening tests performed by healthcare professionals. Doctors suggest that you should perform a breast exam on yourself at least once a month to ensure there are no abnormalities. In a self-performed exam, you use your fingertips to feel all of the breast tissue by applying different amounts of pressure. You can do this while lying down so the breast tissue spreads out, or in the shower to help your fingers glide over your skin. When performing this exam, things you should look out for include: visible distortion and swelling, fluid from the nipples, and dimpling or puckering of the skin.
If you notice any of these symptoms, you may want to consult with a doctor. In terms of screening tests, transgender women who have undergone 5 or more years of hormone use are encouraged to get a mammogram every 2 years once they have reached age 50. The reason for this is due to breast cancer being heavily influenced by estrogen and progestin. If you take any of these hormones, you may consider talking with a trans-experienced medical professional about safer hormone therapy.
There is also increased density (more fibrous and glandular tissue) in transgender women’s breasts, which is an independent risk factor for breast cancer. Early breast development may be associated with breast pain, tenderness, and nodularity, but it is important to differentiate between these symptoms and possible signs of breast cancer. Understanding the differences is something you should talk about with your doctor during an annual exam. Besides formal screening tests, breast self-exams also help in recognizing early abnormalities. Performing monthly self-exams also helps you understand what your breasts look and feel like in a healthy state.
For more information and resources regarding transgender women and breast cancer, check out the National Center for Transgender Equality’s fact sheet on the topic.
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