October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and what better time to become cognizant of your own breast health?
Although self-exams are considered optional by most health organizations, it is good practice to regularly check “the girls” and become familiar with their feel and appearance. Being able to detect any changes in your breasts over time is the first step to catching any malignancies in the early stages.
When to do a Breast Self-Exam:
Perform your breast self-exam when your breasts are not tender or swollen. For premenopausal women, a good time is right after a menstrual period.
Pregnant and nursing women can also perform a monthly self-exam. If you are breastfeeding, the best time is right after feeding, when the breasts have as little milk as possible in them.
How to do a Breast Self-Exam:
Step 1: Standing Up
Standing in front of a mirror, place your hands squarely on your hips to flex your chest muscles and take a thorough look at your breast area. Contact your doctor if you see any of the following changes:
- Changes in the appearance of the skin on the breast
- Noticeable change in the size or position of either breast
- A nipple that has changed position or inverted
- Persistent rash or itchy sore on or around the nipple
- Nipple discharge that is clear, sticky or bloody
Step 2: Lying Down
Feel around for any hard lumps that seem different from the rest of the breast tissue. Also take note of any areas of the breast that feel unusually thick. Here is the recommended procedure:
- Remove any upper body clothing and lie down on your back, left arm behind your head.
- Take the three middle fingers of your right hand. Using small circular motions with the pads of your fingers, feel the left breast tissue.
- Make small circles, moving from your collarbone down to your bra line, up and down the breast area in lengthwise strips. Be sure to cover the entire chest area, from the breastbone to the armpit.
- Use 3 levels of pressure: light pressure for the tissue close to the surface, medium pressure to feel the inner tissue of the breast, and firm pressure to feel the tissue close to your chest and ribs.
- Repeat the steps for the right side of your chest.
Keep in mind that most lumps and bumps in breast tissue don’t signal cancer. Many women have fibrocystic lumps around their breast area, which can be confusing when you’re looking for abnormal lumps. Your tissue can also feel different at certain times in your menstrual cycle, so it’s worth taking note of variations throughout the month.
If you have any doubts or if you find any unusual changes in your breasts during a self-exam, have your doctor perform a clinical breast exam to determine whether further tests are needed.
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