A Helpful Guide: How to Perform a Breast Self-Exam

Did you know October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month? While our focus at Finess is on providing women with a solution to bladder leaks, we believe in supporting every aspect of women’s health. That’s why, this week, we’re talking about the do’s and don’ts of the breast self-exam.

Why Is It So Important to Perform Regular Breast Self-Exams?

While mammograms can detect tumors before noticeable symptoms arrive, doctors and organizations around the world agree that becoming familiar with your breasts is important. Knowing the way your breasts typically look and feel can help you notice changes and abnormalities if they arise and help you take action sooner. According to John Hopkins Medical Center, about 40% of diagnosed breast cancers are discovered by women themselves. So how exactly should you check your breasts and how often?

Step by Step: Become Familiar with Your Breasts

In front of a Mirror

Arms Down: First, start by visually inspecting your breasts. Leave your arms at your side, shoulders straight, and hands on your hips. While looking in the mirror, look for any changes in size, color, and shape. Do your breasts look evenly proportioned? Is there any swelling, redness, dimpling skin, or dark spots? Pay attention to your nipples as well. Make sure they are not inverted or out of their typical positions.

Arms Up: Raising your arms above your head, look for the same changes. Also pay attention to the nipples in this position. Check that no milky, watery, or yellow fluid or blood is leaking out.

Lying Down

How to perform a self breast exam.

  • In addition to examining your breasts in front of a mirror, doctors advise doing so while lying on your back. This is because laying down allows your breast tissue to spread out evenly making it easier to feel deep tissue that otherwise may go unnoticed.
  • First, place your left arm above your head. Taking your right hand, keep the your fingers close together. With a gentle touch begin moving the pads of your fingers in a small circular motion around your breast. You can start at the nipple going outward in larger circles until you’ve gone over all the tissue from your collar bone to your rib cage below your breast. This includes the area of your breast near your armpit. Perform the same activity on your other breast. You can also try moving your hands up and down in straight lines.
  • To start, use light pressure to feel surface level tissue in the skin and just underneath it. To get a good sense of the tissue in the middle of your breast, add a little more force to your touch. Finally, to feel the deep tissue, apply firm pressure using your finger pads. You may notice your ribcage at this point.

 In The Shower

Lastly, doctors recommend performing a similar check while standing in the shower because the wetness helps glide the hand more easily over the breast. Begin by positioning yourself with one arm raised. Reaching your other hand over, perform the same movements you did while lying down. Make sure to cover the entire recommended area. Check the other breast as well.

If during any of these exams you notice abnormal changes like the ones mentioned, contact your healthcare provider. While a self examination can be helpful, a true screening from a professional will tell you if there is any reason for concern. Mammograms can detect anything you may have missed and could indicate whether further steps should be taken.

Important Things To Remember

While regular breast self-exams are a good practice, it is important to remember that not all lumps are cause for panic. In fact, 80 to 85 percent of lumps are benign, meaning they are non-cancerous (www.everdayhealth.org). That said, it is still important to get a second opinion. To make sure you get the most accurate results from your mammogram, schedule your appointment for the end of your menstrual period. At this time, hormones have the least effect on your breasts and they will hurt less as well.

There you have it! Performing consistent breast self-exams is one of the best ways we can care for ourselves. While October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, let’s keep the conversation going all year long. What are other ways we can pay attention to our health?