Although you may have your annual mammograms, please don’t think a regular breast self-exam is still not important. It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. A true reminder that the best way to stay up on preventative methods is through regular self examination.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) released new guidelines last year for breast cancer screening and stated that women who have an average risk of breast cancer should start yearly mammograms at age 45 instead of the previous guideline of age 50. Self-examination can save lives if you perform your own exam routinely.
How to Self-Examine Your Breast
Performing a self-examination is easy to perform right in the comfort of your own home.
1) Standing Up 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. If you notice any changes, get the lumps evaluated by your healthcare provider immediately.
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.
It is highly encouraged that adult women of all ages perform breast self-exams at least once a month. This is according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, you should perform a self-exam monthly, at the same time of each month to make it easy to remember. Perhaps if you are still menstruating you can use this time as a marker to perform your exam. Another reason for selecting the same time every month is because your breasts can change throughout your cycle and become lumpy or sensitive and you want to know what is normal for your cycle. Remember if you notice any differences that last beyond one full normal menstrual cycle or seem to grow or become more noticeable in any way, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
It is important to understand the responsibility of a self-exam. This exam is simple, less invasive and an expensive way to maintain and continue to be obligated in your own breast health. It is an important lesson to teach your mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends as well.
While mammograms can help you to detect cancer before you can feel a lump, breast self-exams help you to be familiar with how your breasts look and feel so you can let your healthcare professional know if there are any changes.
This October ask your doctor for information about breast cancer screening and prevention. It's important to find out when to start getting screened, the suggested frequency, and what type of screening is best for you.