Breast Self-Exams Are Your First Line of Defense
Healthcare professionals emphasize that there is value in conducting a regular breast self-exam in order to help identify breast cancer in its early stages. Sarah Cannon recommends that women age 20 and older conduct monthly breast self-exams.
How to Conduct a Self-Exam
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- Perform your self-exam two weeks after your period starts, when your breasts are less likely to be sensitive or sore.
- Using a mirror, begin with your hands on your hips and look at your breasts to observe that they are their usual shape, size and color, are evenly shaped and are without visible distortion or swelling. You should be looking for dimpling, puckering or bulging of the skin, nipple discharge or a change in the nipple’s position, as well as redness, soreness, rash or swelling.
- Still in front of the mirror, raise your arms and look for the same observances as you did with your hands on your hips.
- While lying down, using your right hand to feel your left breast and left hand to feel your right breast. Using a firm, but smooth touch with the pad of your fingers, use a circular motion about the size of a quarter to feel all parts of each breast. Be sure to cover the entire breast from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen and from your armpit to your cleavage.
- Be sure to cover all the tissue from the shallow parts of the breast to the deepest parts. Use light pressure for the skin and tissue just beneath the nipple and medium pressure for the tissue in the middle of the breast. Use firmer pressure for the deep tissue in the back – when you feel this part of the breast, you should be able to feel your ribcage.
- Finally, repeat the exam process while standing or sitting. Many women find it easiest to do this portion while the skin is wet, so you may opt to do this portion in the shower.
If you come across any unusual findings – a lump, bump, a tender spot that wasn’t there last month, nipple discharge, change in coloring, change in size or anything similar, schedule an appointment with your doctor for an evaluation to determine if any imaging or tests should be done. It is important to also remember not to panic, since breast tissue goes through many phases, so a tender spot or change in size does not necessarily mean anything concerning.