There are several different methods for a self breast exam, but mostly all involve using your hands and your eyes to feel and observe your breasts.
You can perform a self breast exam while taking a shower, laying down, or standing in front of a mirror. A self breast exam is intended to help you identify possible breast problems.
What Are the Benefits of a Self Breast Exam?
A monthly breast exam can help give you a better awareness of your breasts’ condition. You’ll learn how different your breasts will feel in terms of texture and sensitivity during your menstruation cycle.
Breast exams were once thought to be essential for detecting early breast cancer. However, breast awareness is what is stressed now. In other words, being familiar with how your breasts normally feel in terms of the underlying tissue. This way, it’s much easier to detect a change, which could be indicative of a serious problem.
It’s important to note that most abnormalities you find are not cancers. In fact, only a very small percentage of lumps are cancerous.
Some abnormalities, however, can be cancerous and early detection is vital for the most effective treatment. If you are at an increased risk for breast cancer, a self breast exam is a very important step in the detection of this disease.
You should not rely solely on a self breast exam to detect all problems with your breasts. It’s important that you use a combined approach which could include a self breast exam and a diagnostic mammogram. Your doctor also will conduct a clinical breast exam. Magnetic resonance imaging, or an MRI, is often used for women who have a high risk for the disease.
How to Perform a Self Breast Exam?
The American Cancer Society recommends that women should begin self breast exams at the age of twenty. However, it’s also important for these women to understand the limitations of the exam, as well.
Timing is important as well. There are changes in the breast tissue during menstruation due to the hormone fluctuations each month. Once your period ends, the swelling in your breasts will go down as well. The best time of the month to perform a self breast exam is right after your period ends.
Many women find it’s helpful to keep a breast diary to note any small changes found month to month. Some draw a sort of road map, so they can look back and see what the differences have been. This is a good way to watch for any potential developments.
In order to complete a self breast exam, you need to remove your shirt and bra. Stand with your arms at your side and look into the mirror.
Look for any lumps, puckering, or stretching. Look to see if your nipples are inverted or turned in. Raise your hands over your head and see if the ridges along the bottom of your breasts are symmetrical.
You can perform the second part of the exam either laying down or standing in the shower. There is some evidence from the American Cancer Society that suggests lying down is better. This is because the tissue of the breast spreads out, making it much easier to feel.
Use only the pads of your three middle fingers and only use enough pressure to feel through the breast tissue. You want to feel the different depths of the breast.
Take your time, because it may take quite a little bit to examine your breasts carefully. Don’t forget to feel your upper chest area, your armpits, and the area directly under your breast.
What if You Find a Lump?
If you find a lump or other abnormality, schedule an appointment with your doctor. They may find there is nothing there that requires further attention, or they may decide that a mammogram, MRI, or breast biopsy is necessary. Whatever you do, make sure you follow up with a doctor.