Cancer is one of those words that many of us do not like to think about. The disease is painful and can really tear apart at the people who end up being diagnosed with it. In some cases, cancer ends up being fatal, often after a lot of treatment options have been exhausted.
One of the most common cancers in women is breast cancer. There are a lot of steps that you can take to make sure that you diagnose breast cancer early, but one of the most important is performing regular breast self exams. In this article, we’re going to explore the ins and outs of breast self examinations.
Why Should I Perform A Breast Self Exam?
There are a variety of reasons that you should consider performing regular breast self exams. Here are a few of them.
- Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers to be found in women. The most proven and significant risk factors are being female and getting older.
- If you get cancer when you are younger, it is often more aggressive than those found in older adults. That means your chances for treatment and, subsequently, survival, are much lower if you do not detect cancer quickly enough.
- Younger women have thicker breast tissue than older women. This means that it’s much harder to find anything that feels out of place. Familiarity with the look and feel of one’s own breasts by performing regular breast self exams will better help you to determine whether or not there is an irregularity or lump there.
- 40 % of breast cancers which are diagnosed are found by women who feel a lump or another irregularity in their breast.
- Cancer is one of the top killers of men and women in the United States and around the world.
Is that enough evidence for you? We could sit here all day talking about statistics and other related information about why you should perform a breast self exam, but let’s get to the important part: How do you actually perform a breast self exam thoroughly and effectively.
What Am I Looking for When I Perform a Breast Self-Exam?
Here are some of the most common symptoms of breast cancer, and all of them can be observed during a breast self-exam.
- A lump, hard knot, or thick area of tissue that is found inside the breast or under the arm (in and near the armpit).
- Any changes in the size, shape, or texture of the breast.
- The breast skin appears swollen or reddened.
- The breast is warmer or darker than usual.
- Dimpling and puckering of the skin, especially around the nipple.
- An itchy and/or scaly sore or rash is found on and/or around the nipple area.
- If your nipple (or another part of the breast) appears to be “sucked in” or pulled in.
- New pain that will not subside after a few days.
- Any discolored discharge from the nipple.
How do I Perform a Breast Self Exam Effectively?
There are three common ways for women to perform a breast self exam. There is no proof that any of these are any better than the other; it all depends on personal preference and what you find to be best for you. Some people will also use all three in order to get a more complete examination.
- Shower. Many women opt to perform breast self exams in the shower because they’re already undressed. If you decide to use this method, take the pads of your fingers and move around your breast in a circular motion. Start on the outside and move inward toward your nipple. Make sure to cover the entire area of your breast and your underarm.
- Mirror. Some people are familiar enough with their breasts that they will look in the mirror and visually inspect them. Put your arms at your sides, and look for any changes in the appearance like those listed above.
- Lying Down. This is the other method. Lay down so that your breast tissue spreads out, place a pillow under your shoulder and lay on one of your sides. Use the opposite hand to inspect the breast using circular motions like you would for the shower. Switch sides and do the same for the other breast.
What Else Do I Need to Do?
Starting in your 20’s, breast exams should be a regular part of your annual physical exams. Even if you do not detect any lumps during your breast self exam, you should consider getting a mammogram on a regular basis, especially if you are over the age of 40. Combining all of these with breast self exams can help you to detect issues as soon as possible, which will help increase your chances of survival.
Overall, make sure that you are regularly communicating with your primary care physician. They will be able to help you through any of your questions and concerns. Prevention and early detection are vital to winning the fight against any type of cancer.
Last Updated 15 Sep 2013
1. WebMD.com (Accessed 15 Sep 2013)
2. National Breast Cancer (Accessed 15 Sep 2013)
3. Cancer.org (Accessed 15 Sep 2013)
4. Medline Plus (Accessed 15 Sep 2013)