As a four-year survivor of breast cancer (undetected on a mammogram), I can't stress strongly enough the importance of monthly self-check. Since researchers estimate 20% of tumors are undetected on mammograms, women need to be pro-active when it comes to breast cancer.
In February 2007, I had my yearly mammogram which was normal. In June 2007, I had my yearly exam and all was normal. Then in September 2007, I did a self-check (which I rarely did) and felt a hard lump beneath the nipple. Within the short time between my annual exam and my discovery, my tumor was diagnosed as a stage 2-A tumor, grade 3. Although the tumor was still early stage cancer w/no lymph node involvement, grade 3 meant I still had to undergo chemo for four months followed by a mastectomy and a five year oral chemo regiment. Had I done a self-check in July or August, I might have felt a tumor small enough to require a minimum of treatment.
Cancer is scary, which is why so many women avoid self-checks, myself included. However, since "an estimated 180,000 women in the U.S. will learn they have breast cancer this year," (Harvard Health Publications), early detection is key.
Like most women without a history of breast cancer, I thought yearly check-ups and mammograms, exercising daily (yoga and walking), eating healthy, being trim and a non-smoker were the necessary antibodies to protect me from breast cancer. What I learned, after the fact, is that breast cancer is non-discriminatory and the best protection of all is literally "at our finger tips."