According to the latest statistics, 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer
in their lifetime—that’s a 12% chance minimum for all women,
regardless of ethnic background. Aside from lung cancer, breast cancer is the
most common cancer for all women in the United States. Genetic factors are not as relevant
with this form of cancer either—85% of patients have no family history
of breast cancer.
In order to prevent or catch breast cancer early, women must be vigilant—especially
women past age 45.
That’s why self-checking for lumps and other changes is so vital. You know your own body best, so you are the first and best line of defense
when it comes to detecting breast cancer.
Read below for the best practices for breast self-exams!
Monthly Breast Exams
Quick tips: self-check once a month at the end of your period—if
you no longer have periods or you’re pregnant, choose a day of the
month and stick to it. Make sure your fingers don’t have lotion
on them, and if you check in the shower, make sure to check in front of
a mirror as well, outside of the shower.
One important fact to remember is that most breasts are not identically-shaped—which
means you need to compare your individual breasts to themselves over time,
not to each other. That’s another reason why self-checking on a
regular basis is so important, as you’ll form an accurate idea of
what your breasts look like when you’re healthy.
Self-Exam #1: In Front of a Mirror
With your arms flat at your side, visually inspect your breasts.
- Look for any discoloration or abnormal shapes or swelling.
- Examine the texture of your skin—pay attention to any strange dimples
- Pay attention to any soreness, redness, or rashes.
- Anything unusual should be written down (e.g. inverted nipples, strange
Raise your arms high above your head.
- Look for the same signs as above.
- Gently squeeze your nipples—look for any unusual or discolored discharge.
With hands on your hips, flex your chest muscles.
- Look for any changes in vein patterns or size.
- Look for the signs listed above.
Lean far forward with your hands on your hips and examine your breasts
- Repeat the visual checklist.
Self-Exam #2: In the Shower
This is an exam that relies on your ability to feel for unusual growths
while in the shower, but this could just as easily be done while getting
dressed or before going to bed. Some self-exam instructors will tell you
not to check in the shower, as the water may keep you from getting an
accurate grip on your own body. To be honest, this is purely up to you—but
it wouldn’t hurt to check under both conditions.
- While standing, use your fingertips to make a circular pattern around your
breasts, beginning with the outside. Press gently but firmly with your
fingers, enough to feel past the soft surface tissue.
- With each subsequent circle, move closer to the center of your breast.
You’re looking for any usual texture or shape, such as:
- Thickening tissue
- Hardened portions of tissue
Self-Exam #3: Lying On Your Back
To begin this exam, lie on your bed with a pillow under your right shoulder
with your right hand behind your head. This will allow your breasts to
flatten evenly along your ribcage, making any large growths immediately
visible or easy to locate.
- Use your left hand to reach across your chest and repeat the circular pattern
from the previous exam.
- Press firmly to make sure there’s no growth between the surface tissue
and your ribcage.
Check the sides of your breast near your armpit.
- Be sure to examine the adjacent areas around your breasts.
- Repeat the process with your right hand for your other breast.
Be sure to do all 3 of these exams once a month in order to keep track
of your health. If you notice
any unusual changes, notify your doctor as soon as possible. Thankfully, most
changes in tissue or color are not cancerous. However, if they
are, you’ll be able to catch it quicker than any doctor because you’ll
know your own body’s shape, color, and feel.
For more answers to your breast health questions, talk to your doctor or
consider scheduling an appointment with Saint Francis Healthcare Women's
Health OB/GYN doctor today!