It's important for all women to perform the breast self-examination regularly in order to diagnose breast cancer as early as possible. If you develop a monthly habit of examining your breasts, you will learn the normal appearance and texture of your breasts and will be more apt to identify cancerous changes that may develop. Though doing the breast self-examination has never been shown to decrease the risk of dying of breast cancer, a significant number of women discover breast lumps that are found to be cancerous. For menstruating women, the best time to do a breast self-exam is one week after their period starts. Postmenopausal women should be sure to do the exam regularly each month — many women just pick the first day of each month. The exam consists of three simple steps.
Many women have been taught to do the breast self-exam but do not do it for many reasons. Here are some common reasons women give for not doing the exam — and our recommended solutions:
- Many women have their partner learn the exam and check for lumps each month.
- Using lotion or performing the exam in the shower often helps you feel the tissue more confidently and makes the exam more comfortable.
- Review our Breast Self-Exam video.
- This is another case where having a partner do the exam might make you more comfortable.
- Practice the exam with your health-care provider at your next physical. Test yourself by making sure you feel what he or she feels.
Performing a monthly breast self-exam allows you 11 more chances each year to find a lump before your next physical exam. A few months head start on getting treatment can make a big difference.
"I would be scared if I found something."
You should always discuss your fears with your health-care provider. Talking through what would happen if you found a lump can help to ease your fears. Practicing the exam with your health-care provider there to check on your technique can also be reassuring.
"I always forget."
This is a common reason why women do not perform the breast self-exam — see our tips below on how to develop the habit or routine.
"No one ever taught me how."
The breast self-exam is easy to learn. There are three basic steps to the breast self-exam that we outline below. You can try this on your own, review the InteliHealth breast self-exam video and then make sure to check your technique with your health-care provider during your next physical exam. If you have already been taught how to do the breast self-exam, take this opportunity to review your technique now.
Tips For Developing The Breast Self-Exam Habit
- Start young! If you can gradually get into a monthly routine that works for you, you will know the shape and feel of your breasts.
- Shower cards are available through your physician or the American Cancer Society. Many women find this a helpful reminder in their showers at home, at the gym or in their dormitory.
- Make a mark on your calendar to remind you each month.
- Many oral contraceptive or hormone-replacement-therapy packages have reminders by one pill each month.
The Breast Self-Exam — Three Simple Steps
Stand before a mirror and observe the appearance of your breasts. Begin with your arms held loosely at your sides, then with your hands on your hips and finally held at various positions. Notice the texture and color of the skin, size and shape of the breasts, and the appearance of the nipples.
In the shower, raise your right arm, and using the finger pads of your left hand, press in circular motions or in up-down strips along your right breast. Be sure to feel the areas around your armpit and nipple. Vary the amount of pressure you exert to feel different levels of skin. Switch sides.
Lying on a bed, elevate your right side by putting a pillow under your right shoulder and resting your right hand behind your head. Repeat the pattern and pressure outlined in Step 2. Check for discharge by gently squeezing the nipple. Switch sides.
Notify your doctor immediately if you find a lump or notice any of the following changes in your breast: a clear or bloody discharge from the nipple, scaling or sores on the skin of the breast or nipple, one nipple that inverts, dimpling on the breast skin or a change in the contour of one breast compared with the other.