The importance of self exams in detecting breast cancer
In the fight against breast cancer, you are the first line of defense. Regular breast self-examinations allow you to get to know the feel, texture and density of your own breasts — so you will be more likely to notice something unusual.
As you become familiar with your breasts by doing breast self-examinations each month, you should be able to tell the difference between your normal lumpiness and what may be an area of concern. Ask your health care provider to teach you how to do breast self-examination to make certain that you are doing it correctly and thoroughly.
If you feel a lump that stands out as different from the rest of your breast tissue, you should slowly and carefully examine it and compare it to the other breast. If both breasts feel the same the lumpiness probably is normal, but it’s a good idea to have a clinician check the lump if still present following your next period.
How to perform a self breast examination
Breast self-examinations should be done monthly, preferably in those few days following your period. If you don’t have regular periods, try to perform your breast exams at the same time every month.
Some pointers before you get started:
- Check your breasts using the flat pads on the tips of your 3 middle fingers
- Your left hand examines the right breast, and your right hand examines the left breast
- Any of three different techniques may be used to examine the breast:
The circular method allows you to examine your breast with small circular strokes going around the breast and the underarm area in a clockwise pattern.
The wedge method examines small pie-shaped pieces, one at a time with careful pressing and palpation by the pads of your 3 fingers. Remember to check the underarms and “tail” of the breast, when you’re checking the outer wedge.
The zigzag method allows you to move up and down the breast, while carefully pressing and palpating the tissue beneath. Again, always be certain to continue the examination along the tail of the breast and the underarm area.
Know what you’re feeling for – lumps, hard knots, swelling, dimples, or thickened skin, any changes in size, shape, color or nipple/skin discharge.
Self breast exam in 10 easy steps:
Standing in front of a mirror:
- Look at your breasts with your arms at your sides. Do they look even or are there any differences in appearance?
- Slowly raise your arms above your head. Is there any puckering, swelling or change in either breast or nipple area?
- With hands on your hips, flex your chest muscles. Is there any change noted on either side?
In the shower:
- Lift your right arm up and examine your right breast.
- Lift your left arm up and examine your left breast.
Lying flat on the bed or floor:
- Put a pillow under your right shoulder, and put your right arm under your head.
- Examine your right breast, including the tail and the underarm area.
- Move the pillow to the left shoulder, and bend your left arm under your head.
- Examine the left breast, including the tail and the underarm area.
- Squeeze each nipple and observe for any discharge.
To learn more about breast cancer, see the National Cancer Institute’s website at www.cancer.gov.