The Self Breast-Exam
- Pick a day during the month to designate as “Exam Day.” A few days after your period ends is best.
- Standing in front of a mirror, put your arms on your hips and lean forward. Look for changes in shapes, asymmetry, skin changes or dimpling as you move from one position to another.
- Raise your arms over your head and look for changes in your breasts and underarms.
- Raise your right arm over your head and use the pads of the first three fingers of your left hand to apply gentle pressure to your right breast in a spiral motion, working from the upper outside area inward toward your nipple. Go over your entire breast looking for lumps, thickening or painful areas.
- Repeat these steps with your left arm raised.
- In the shower, place your right arm behind your head. Move your left hand from the breast up to the collarbone. Go back to the breast and move your hand from your breast out to your armpit. Repeat the same motion moving your hand from your breast inwards to the mid chest and downwards to the bottom of the rib cage.
- Repeat these steps with your left arm raised.
- After your shower, lie down and place a pillow under your right shoulder. Put your right arm behind your head. With your left hand, use the spiral motion to check the entire right breast including the upper chest, under arm and the rib cage.
- Repeat for your left breast.
A no-cost, low-risk method to detect breast cancer may seem too good to be true, but there really is such a method: monthly self-exams. You may have heard the debate over the effectiveness of self-exams, but the fact is up to 20 percent of women with breast cancer identified their own lump using this method.
“Being familiar with your breast makes it easier for you to notice when something is out of the ordinary, helping you detect early stage breast cancer,” says Elyse Schneiderman, MD, Hematologist and Medical Oncologist on staff at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital. “It’s very common to feel some lumps when you do your exam; the key is to recognize what’s normal and what’s changed.”
Breast self-exams for every stage of your life
Starting monthly self-exams in your 20s will familiarize you with how your breasts look and feel. As you age, these exams will help you recognize natural changes in your breast tissue. It’s never too late to start, especially if you won’t be getting your first mammogram until you turn 40.
Make the most of your self-exam by following Dr. Schneiderman’s tips:
• In your 20s, 30s and 40s: Perform your self-exam about a week after your period. “The week prior to your period causes swelling and tenderness in the breast which can change the feel of the exam. Waiting until the week after your period is over makes the exam more accurate," Dr. Schneiderman explains.
• If you’ve gone through menopause: Perform your exam any time during the month, but be consistent. “Pick a time of the month that’s easy for you to remember,” suggests Dr. Schneiderman.
• If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding: It’s more difficult to perform self-exams because your breasts are changing. This makes the exam more difficult to interpret because the normal landmarks are altered. “Breast cancer is rare in women of childbearing age, but if you’re concerned about anything, don’t hesitate to talk with your doctor,” says Dr. Schneiderman.
• If you have breast implants: Breast tissue may be obscured by your implants, but self-exams are still beneficial. “Lumps may be harder to feel, but it can be done,” Dr. Schneiderman says. “Women with breast implants should also pay close attention to changes in skin color and breast symmetry.”
When a lump is more than a lump
Since most breast tissue is naturally a little lumpy, knowing what to look for can save you some stress when performing your self-exam. If you notice any of the following conditions during your self-exam, it could be cause for concern:
• Hard or gritty feeling mass(es).
• Thick areas of tissue that don’t go away or seem to be growing.
• Inversion of the nipple (if that is atypical for your breast).
• Asymmetry in a way that is unusual for your breasts.
• Dimpling under the skin.
• Red skin or a rash, especially if it feels hot. (See a physician for an evaluation right away. This could be a symptom of a rare type of breast cancer).
“If you find something unusual during a self-exam and you are not sure what it is or it seems to have gotten worse during your next monthly self-exam, get evaluated by a physician,” urges Dr. Schneiderman.
Even if you’re getting mammograms or a yearly clinical exam by your physician, breast self-exams are a simple way to play an active role in your own breast health. After all, “A mammogram or doctor only examines your breasts once a year,” says Dr. Schneiderman. “You’re in a position to notice small changes from month to month and be an advocate for yourself.”
You don’t have to wait to get screened for breast cancer. Call 630-856-7061 today to schedule your next-day mammogram through Adventist Midwest Health.