How To Perform A Breast Self-Exam
Most doctors and specialist recommend women (starting as early as 20) to perform self-exams on their breasts once a month. Being familiar with the way your breasts look and feel is very important and could possibly lead to early detection of cancer. Knowing what is normal for you can help with finding any abnormalities or changes within your breasts.
According to Johns Hopkins Medical Center, “Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump”. So, if you feel or see any physical changes you should alert your primary physician immediately.
Now that we are aware of how important it is to check our breasts at home, do you know the necessary steps or what to look for while performing the exam?
Below are 6 steps to follow while performing breast self-examinations:
Step 1: While standing in front of a mirror, place your arms on your hips, shoulders back away from your ears,stand straight and visually inspect your breasts. While turning side to side, inspecting, take a mental note of their natural size, shape and color.
- Things to look for are:
- Swelling, redness, soreness or a rash
- An inverted nipple, change in color or position
- Puckering, dimpling, or bulging of the skin
Step 2: Then bend forward towards the mirror. Tighten your chest bone by rolling your shoulders and elbows forward, but keep your hands placed on your hips. As your breast fall forward look for any changes in contour or shape of both breasts.
Step 3: Next, raise your arms in the air behind your head. Repeat step number 1. Remember to check underneath and around the border of your breasts. You may need to lift your breast using one hand to check this area.
Step 4: Remaining in front of a mirror, look for any liquid coming out of one, or both nipples. The fluid could be blood, milky, clear, or a yellowish color.
Step 5: Lay down on a flat surface. While lying down your breast tissue spreads out along your chest wall. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and put your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand to feel your right breast, move the pads of your fingers in small circular motions (about the size of a quarter) until you cover the entire breast. Apply light pressure while feeling the front of your breast and increase pressure as you make your way deeper into the breast tissue. Make sure to feel all tissue from the front to back of your breast, INCLUDING under and around your armpits. To double check, move your fingers up and down vertically, creating rows traveling from the left to the right side of your breast. Make sure to feel all the way down until you hit your ribcage.
- What to feel for are:
- A hard lump, thickening or knot
- Soreness or pain when over a certain area
- Liquid discharge from one, or both nipples when squeezed
Step 6: Repeat step 5 while standing or sitting. Many women find it easiest to do this step in the shower while their skin is wet. Remember to lift your opposite hand behind your head while checking one breast at a time.
The best time for a woman to perform a breast self-exam is 7-10 days after her menstrual cycle starts; this is when a woman’s breasts are least swollen, tender and lumpy. If you are post- menopause, give yourself a breast exam on the same day every month; mark it on your calendar to remind yourself. I found a website called CheckYourBoobies.org and they will send you an email reminder to do your exam every month if you sign up for their mailing list - no more “I forgot” excuses!
Breast self-exams are a useful screening strategy, but it is important to remain on your yearly screening regime, even if there are no noticeable changes to your breast. Mammograms and ultrasounds can help detect a tumor before you are able to feel it.
Remember, be your own health advocate. Preforming breast self-exam once a month can save your life. Early detection is key!
The National Breast Cancer Foundation - http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-self-exam
Breast Cancer.org - http://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/testing/types/self_exam/bse_steps
Susan G. Komen - http://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/BreastSelfExam.html