Decades after establishing the recognized standard for performing and teaching clinical and personal breast exams, the MammaCare Foundation wants women and others to be aware that most breast cancers are found by hand.
MammaCare’s goal is to train people what to feel for to identify suspicious breast tumors at the earliest stage while also reducing false alarms.
“A palpable lump, detected by hand, is the most common symptom of breast cancer,” Mark Kane Goldstein, PhD, the foundation’s senior scientist, said in a press release. “Although mammograms — X-rays of the breast — can be useful, their images are masked by breast density in nearly 50 percent of U.S. women. Physical examination, however, is unaffected by density.”
Goldstein cited recent research that identifies how breast cancer is detected, including a 2017 Harvard University-led study published in the American Journal of Roentgenology that shows the benefits of mammography as an adjunct diagnostic for palpable breast lumps.
With a mission “to train every hand that examines a woman, including her own,” MammaCare was established in 1975 by a team of University of Florida researchers and physicians who discovered that, with training, individuals could use fingers to reliably detect tiny (smaller than 0.5 cm in diameter), suspicious tumors without increasing the number of false positive detections.
After gaining the interest of President Jimmy Carter in 1977, the team’s research attracted attention from the National Cancer Institute, the National Science Foundation, and researchers globally, leading to scientific validation of the sense of touch as an effective, safe, and reliable way to detect small, suspicious breast tumors.
“After all, women trust their fingers more than others trust them,” said H.S. Pennypacker, MammaCare research leader.
More recently, the Women Veterans Health Care program and a network of nursing and medical schools have begun using evidence-based exams. Using a clinical breast exam simulator-trainer platform, MammaCare’s hands-on examination programs teach basic palpitation and advanced discrimination skills.
“Women and their clinicians need to know this important but often overlooked truth about breast cancer: that a palpable lump is, by far, the most common and important symptom,” Goldstein said.
Breast cancer is the second most prevalent form of cancer among women in the United States; about 12% of women develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. While lumps are the most common symptom, 1 in 6 women have other symptoms of breast cancer, and tend to delay seeking help.