Check Yourself: Why Self Breast Exams are So Important - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on October 07, 2015

Check Yourself: Why Self Breast Exams are So Important

Follow these tips on how and when
to perform self-breast exams.

Regularly getting mammograms, clinical breast exams and leading a healthy life still stand as the most effective way to protect yourself from breast cancer and detect it early. But those aren’t the only tools you can use in your fight to stay healthy.

Performing breast self-exams can help you find breast cancer and detect changes in your breasts early, when they’re more likely to be treated successfully. Although not every cancer can be found by regularly examining your breasts, it is an important way to take care of yourself and lower your risk of breast cancer, especially combined with regular physical exams and mammograms.

Here are tips on how and when to perform self-breast exams.

Get the Timing Right

When it comes to timing, you should try to get in the habit of performing your self-exam once a month. Doing this regularly helps you familiarize yourself with how your breasts look and feel. Several days after your period ends, your breasts are less likely to be swollen and tender – this is a good time to do your exam. However, you can also choose a day each month that’s easy for you to remember.

Know the Norm

Once you’ve become familiar with the normal look and feel for your breasts, it’s important to know what changes to look for moving forward. Changes can include a lump, tenderness, an unexplained change in size, especially on one side, skin irritation or dimpling, discharge, or nipple abnormalities.

Know Where to Look

It’s also important for you to know that breasts have different sections, each with their own unique feeling. The upper, outer area near your armpit has a tendency to feel lumpy and bumpy. The area underneath the nipple may feel like large grains under the skin. The lower half may feel like a sandy or pebbly beach. Understanding how each area normally feels will help you detect any changes.

Know the Process

Start your self-exam standing up, using the pads of your fingers to move around the entire breast in a circular pattern. Check both breasts and underarm areas for lumps, thickening or hard knots.

Then look in a mirror – inspect your breasts for any visible changes with your hands at your sides and then with your arms raised overhead. This is how you will be able to detect any swelling, dimpling or nipple abnormalities. Rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex the muscles of your chest – this will enhance any changes in your breasts.

Then, lie down, placing a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Lying down spreads breast tissue out evenly along your chest wall, making it as thin as possible, helping you feel all of the breast tissue much easier. Use your left hand’s finger tips to gently feel around the right breast and underarm area in small, circular motions. Try using different levels of pressure to feel for changes in all levels of breast tissue and muscles. Repeat this for the left breast.

Don't Panic

If you do discover any changes, don’t panic. Many women have some lumps or lumpy areas in their breasts. In the U.S., only 20 percent of women who have a suspicious lump biopsied end up having breast cancer. You should tell your doctor about any changes so they can investigate and figure out the cause.

While you shouldn’t rely solely on a self-breast exam as a breast cancer screening tool, it can alert you to recent changes to bring to your doctor’s attention.

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