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Detect Breast Changes with Monthly Self-Exams

10-21-2020

Breast cancer is very effectively treated when it is caught early. One of the essential steps in detecting breast cancer early is performing monthly self-exams, in addition to getting annual mammograms.

Women over 40 should receive mammograms once a year, and women at high risk should also have annual MRIs to detect cancer before it can be felt.

Monthly self-exams are an important way to monitor your body and recognize if anything has changed. Self-exams help you familiarize yourself with how your breasts look and feel. When you’re familiar with your breasts, you can more easily notice unusual changes and know when to schedule an appointment with your doctor.

Performing regular self-exams in combination with screening imaging increases your odds of early detection.

How Do I Perform a Breast Self-Exam?

For the most effective self-exam, examine your breasts in a variety of positions. Each month, check both breasts for any lump, thickening, hardened knot, skin changes or any other unusual changes. There are three ideal places to perform your self-exam:

  • In the shower. Using the pads of your three middle fingers, check your entire breast and armpit area by pressing with a light, medium, and firm pressure.
  • In front of a mirror. First, visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Then, raise your arms high overhead. Be sure to look for any changes in the contour of your breasts, as well as dimpling of the skin or changes in your nipples. Next, flex your chest muscles by placing your palms on your hips and pressing firmly. Look for dimpling, puckering, or other changes—especially on one side.
  • Lying down. When you lay down, your breast tissue spreads out evenly along your chest wall. To perform a self-exam while lying down, place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Use your left hand to move the pads of your fingers around your right breast, gently covering your entire breast area and armpit. Use light, medium, and firm pressure. Also, squeeze your nipples to check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for your left breast.

What Should I Look For?

When performing a self-exam, it’s important to know what to pay attention to. Call your doctor if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • A lump or hardened knot in the breast
  • Dimpled, puckered, or bulging skin around the breast
  • A nipple that changed position, such as an inverted nipple (pushed inward instead of outward)
  • Nipple discharge

What if I Notice a Change?

If you find a lump or any other concerning change with your breasts, schedule an appointment with your doctor—but don’t panic. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, 8 out of 10 lumps are non-cancerous. There are a number of possible causes for non-cancerous breast lumps, such as hormonal changes, a benign breast condition, or an injury.

When you visit your doctor for a breast evaluation, they will review your health history and do a physical exam of your breasts. They will most likely order breast imaging tests, such as an ultrasound or mammogram. If further testing is needed, your doctor might recommend an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), or a biopsy. Your doctor may also refer you to a breast surgeon for further evaluation.

To learn more about the importance of breast health and mammograms, check out our Breast Cancer Tool Kit. Need to schedule your annual mammogram? Talk to your doctor today. We want you healthy, Frederick.