Breast Self Exam & Breast Cancer Awareness
Why is a Breast Exam Important?
Conducting a regular breast exam on yourself will help you to realize how your breasts normally look and feel, which will make it easier to notice any abnormalities. Of course, it is important to remember that finding an abnormality does not necessarily mean you have breast cancer. Any changes in your breast should be immediately referred to a health care professional.
Early detection makes breast cancer treatment less invasive and more effective.
What Types of Things Should I Be Looking For?
When conducting a breast self exam, there are several things you should be looking for, including:
- any change in shape or size
- skin irritation or dimpling
- nipple pain or an inverted nipple (retraction)
- redness, soreness, rash or swelling
- scaly-textured nipple or breast skin
- nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
Be aware, however, that our breasts tend to change on a month-to-month basis, so not every change is necessarily a cause for concern. If you detect breast lumps or any other abnormalities, check for the same thing on your other breast – if you notice them on both, they are probably normal. As your breast examination becomes more routine, it will become easier to distinguish between changes and normal lumpiness.
How is a Breast Exam Done?
The Five Steps of a Breast Self Exam
- Step 1: Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your hands on your hips. Look for any changes in shape, size and color. Continue to look for changes with your arms relaxed at your sides and then with your arms raised up over your head with your palms pressed together. Also try looking at different angles so that you become familiar with how your breasts look.
Step 2: Next, raise your arms slightly (not too much as this can make the skin tight and therefore more difficult to examine) and look for any changes in your underarms.
Step 3: While you're at the mirror, gently squeeze each nipple between your finger and thumb and check for nipple discharge (this could be a milky or yellow fluid or blood).
Step 4: While lying down (lying down allows the breast to spread out evenly, making the examination easier), use your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left hand to feel your right breast. Use the first few fingers of your hand, keeping them flat and together to make overlapping, small circular motions around the breast tissue. Use increasing levels of pressure to ensure you are feeling all levels of the breast, right down to the ribcage. Cover the entire breast from top to bottom, and then side to side – from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage.
Step 5: Finally, feel your breasts while you are standing or sitting. Many women find that the easiest way to feel their breasts is when their skin is wet, so they like to do this step in the shower. Cover your entire breast, using the same hand movements as described in Step 4.