Breast cancer has become one of the biggest killers of women and early detection has become imperative. Here’s how to self-examine yourself thoroughly for breast cancer and potentially save a life.
A breast self-examination is a technique which allows an individual to examine his/her breast tissue for any physical or visual changes. It is often used as an early detection method for breast cancer. Both men and women should perform a self-examination at least once each month beginning from the age of 18.
Breast self-exam, or regularly examining your breasts on your own, can be an important way to find a breast cancer early, when it’s more likely to be treated successfully. Not every cancer can be found this way, but it is a critical step you can and should take for yourself
Breast Exam Tips
- Make it routine. The more you examine your breasts, the more you will learn about them and the easier it will become for you to tell if something has changed. Try to get in the habit of doing a breast self-examination once a month to familiarise yourself with how your breasts normally look and feel. Examine yourself several days after your period ends, when your breasts are least likely to be swollen and tender. If you are no longer having periods, choose a day that’s easy to remember, such as the first or last day of the month.
- Get to know your breasts’ different ‘areas’- The upper, outer area, near your armpit, tends to have the most prominent lumps and bumps. The lower half of your breast can feel like a sandy or pebbly beach. The area under the nipple can feel like a collection of large grains. Another part might feel like a lumpy bowl of oatmeal.
- Start a diary- where you record the findings of your breast self-exams. This can be like a small map of your breasts, with notes about where you feel lumps or irregularities. Especially in the beginning, this may help you remember, from month to month, what is “normal” for your breasts. It is not unusual for lumps to appear at certain times of the month, but then disappear, as your body changes with the menstrual cycle (if you are still menstruating).
- Don’t panic if you think you feel a lump. Most women have some lumps or lumpy areas in their breasts all the time, and most breast lumps turn out to be benign (not cancer).
- Tell your doctor if anything has changed, or if something stands out as different from the rest of the area (like a rock on a sandy beach), and it persists for several weeks. If a change is clearly new and worrisome, let your doctor know right away. But in most cases, only changes that last more than one full menstrual cycle or seem to get bigger or more prominent in some way, need your doctor’s attention.
How To Perform a Self-Examination
According to the Breast Cancer Foundation:
1. In the Shower
Using the pads of your fingers, move around your entire breast in a circular pattern moving from the outside to the center, checking the entire breast and armpit area. Check both breasts each month feeling for any lump, thickening, or hardened knot. Notice any changes and get lumps evaluated by your healthcare provider.
2. In Front of a Mirror
Visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead.
Look for any changes in the contour, any swelling, or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples. Next, rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Left and right breasts will not exactly match—few women’s breasts do, so look for any dimpling, puckering, or changes, particularly on one side.
3. Lying Down
When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions covering the entire breast area and armpit.
Use light, medium, and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for your left breast.