Healthcare professionals emphasize that there is value in conducting a regular breast self-exam in order to help identify breast cancer in its early stages. Sarah Cannon recommends that women age 20 and older conduct monthly breast self-exams. Unsure of how to get started? We’ve got you covered.
- Perform your self-exam two weeks after your period starts, when your breasts are less likely to be sensitive or sore.
- Using a mirror, begin with your hands on your hips and look at your breasts to make sure they are their usual shape, size and color, are evenly shaped and don’t have visible distortion or swelling. Be on the lookout for dimpling, puckering or bulging of the skin, nipple discharge or a change in the nipple’s position, as well as redness, soreness, rash or swelling.
- Still in front of the mirror, raise your arms and look for the same factors as you did with your hands on your hips.
- Then, while lying down, using your right hand to feel your left breast and left hand to feel your right breast. Using a firm, but smooth touch with the pad of your fingers, use a circular motion – about the size of a quarter – to feel all parts of each breast. Make sure to cover the entire breast from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen and from your armpit to your cleavage.
- Make sure you cover all your breast tissue – from the shallow parts of the breast to the deepest parts. Use light pressure for the skin and tissue just beneath the nipple and medium pressure for the tissue in the middle of the breast. Use firmer pressure for the deep tissue in the back – when you feel this part of the breast, you should be able to feel your ribcage.
- Finally, repeat the exam process while standing or sitting. Many women find it easiest to do this part in the shower or bath while your skin is wet.
If you come across any unusual findings – a lump, bump, a tender spot that wasn’t there last month, nipple discharge, change in coloring, change in size or anything similar, talk with your doctor to determine if any imaging or tests should be done. It is important to also remember not to panic, since breast tissue goes through many phases, so a tender spot or change in size does not necessarily mean anything concerning.
In addition to monthly self-breast-exams, it’s recommended that women between the ages of 40-45 and should start screening for breast cancer. Starting at age 45, the American Cancer Society recommends annual mammograms. Early detection is key. Schedule your screening mammogram today.
At Methodist Healthcare, we offer free education, support and guidance through all phases of the breast health journey – from “what should I expect at my mammogram?” to breast cancer support services. To learn more about health, visit our breast health page.