For many women, regardless of their age, the only time they receive a breast exam is once a year during their well-woman visit to the gynecologist. Frankly, this is not enough. Although your doctor will be able to assess any current or potential issues you may have during your visit, it’s important for women to be vigilant and evaluate their own breast health once a month in order to stay on top of any abnormalities. Many women steer away from even attempting a self breast exam because they think it’s “complicated” or they think that they just won’t be able to figure it out. Fortunately, neither assumption is true. Self breast exams are very straightforward and all women are capable of performing them in a brief period of time on a monthly basis.
Step One – While in the Shower
The shower is a great place to perform a self breast exam because you will be standing, which is a great first position for the exam. Using your fingers in a circular motion, feel around the outside of one breast and slowly move toward the center. Repeat this action with the other breast. If you notice anything unusual, such as a lump, a change in breast thickness, something that feels like a knot inside the breast, or anything else unusual then you’ll need to contact your healthcare provide for a more formal assessment.
Step Two – In Front of a Mirror
After showering, head over to the mirror for the next part of your self breast exam and be sure to keep your arms down at your sides. Look in the mirror and assess your breasts straight on and from the side – take note of any changes or differences in appearance. Next, raise your arms up above your head – does anything look unusual? Is there swelling? Does the skin dimple in any way? How about skin puckering or contour changes? Breast appearance can change with age, during pregnancy, and during breast-feeding, so it’s important to note that some small changes can be attribute to these cases, but overall it’s best to check with your doctor if you notice anything abnormal.
Step Three – While Lying Down
Lie down on your back and put a pillow under your right shoulder. Put your right arm behind your head and with the fingers of your left hand move around slowly in circular motions (similar to when you were in the shower). Work around the entire breast area, including the armpit area. Alternate between the amounts of pressure you are using during the circular motions. Check for any lumps or discharge around the nipples as well. Repeat these actions while putting your left hand above your head, with a pillow under your left shoulder for the other breast.
If you end up noticing any abnormalities during the course of your self breast exam, please be sure to contact your care provider. Keep in mind that there is no need to panic should you find a lump during your exam – eight out of ten lumps women find are not cancerous. Your care provider will be able to better assess the abnormality and determine if there is a need for additional testing.