Breast self-exam refers to a regular self check-up. It is an easy, no-cost tool that you can perform on an ongoing basis, and at age. Medical experts encourage adult women of all ages to perform breast self-exams at least once a month. It is a useful way to check breast health for changes or other complications in the breast tissue.
Apart from self-exam, there are various other screening tools to examine breast health for cancer, such as mammography, ultrasound, or MRI.
Before you do a breast self-exam, here are a few essential tips to know:
- Be sure to check both breasts every month for lumps, thickening, hardened knots, or any other such breast changes.
- Use the pad of your fingers and not the tips while examining. If you have difficulty to feel with your finger pads, use your palm or the backs of your fingers.
- Use varying pressure levels. Press down lightly to feel the tissue closest to your skin. Use medium pressure to probe deeper and firm pressure to feel the breast tissue closest to your chest and ribs. If you are not sure how to use the right pressure, consult a medical professional.
- Use a methodical pattern to check your entire breast. Don’t rush, as it may take several minutes to examine your breasts.
What Should You Check While Performing a Breast Self-Exam?
- Abnormal size, shape, and colour of the breasts
- Distortion or swelling on the breasts
- Puckering, bulging, or dimpling on the breast skin
- Swelling, rash, or redness
- A nipple that has changed position, also known as an inverted nipple
- Signs of a discharge coming from one or both nipples—the discharge could be watery, milky, and yellow, or even blood.
How Do You Self-Check for Breast Cancer?
You can check yourself for signs of breast cancer by performing any of the following methods:
1. Breast Self-Exam in Front of a Mirror:
You can visually inspect your breasts in front of a mirror using these techniques:
a) Keep your shoulders straight, place your arms on your hips, and flex your chest muscles. Check for any obvious visual changes in your breasts; such as unusual colour, size, and shape.
Also check for a visible swelling, distortion, or inverted nipple. If you observe swelling, redness, bulging, dimpling, or puckering, bring it to your doctor’s attention.
b) Raise your arms high overhead and examine your breasts for any changes as mentioned above. You may also squeeze the nipple to check for lumps or discharge from either or both nipples. What’s important to note is that your left and right breasts may not precisely match; however, in some women, they do.
2. Breast Self-Exam by Lying Down:
You can self-examine your breast by lying down on your back. Keep a pillow under your shoulder and your arm behind your head. This position helps the breast tissue to spread out evenly along the chest wall.
a) Use your right hand to feel your left breast. Apply firm pressure with your finger pads. Keep your fingers flat and together. Examine your breasts by using a circular pattern to feel for any lump, thickening, a knot, or any other breast changes. Remember to apply varying pressure levels, as mentioned in the tips.
Press down on the entire breast from top to bottom, and from side to side. Begin at the nipple and move in larger and larger circles until you reach the outer edge of the breast, finishing at your collarbone. Then move towards the area of your armpit and your cleavage.
b) Use your left hand to feel your right breast. You can also apply a vertical pattern, by moving your fingers up and down, as if walking in a row. Remember to cover your entire breast from top to bottom. You should be able to feel your ribcage when you’ve reached the deep tissue.
3. Breast Self-Exam While Sitting:
You can also self-examine your breasts in a sitting position by applying the same tips for hand movements, as mentioned above.
4. Breast Self-Exam in the Shower:
Many women find it easy to examine when their skin is wet and slippery. Remember to cover your entire breast, and apply the same hand movements and pressure levels, as mentioned above.
What to Do If You Find a Lump?
1. Don’t Panic
If you notice anything unusual about your breasts, it could also be a benign breast condition or even an injury. In some cases, lumps or changes in the breasts tend to occur at various stages in the menstrual cycles. Furthermore, some breast lumps are common and not always cancerous. You should also know that the look and feel of your breasts change with age.
Consult a medical expert to clear your doubts, and do not come to any conclusions on your own. CK Birla Hospital provides the best breast cancer treatment in Gurgaon.
2. Don’t Hesitate to Consult a Doctor
Getting examined from a medical expert will calm your anxiety. If you’ve noticed a lump or other prominent changes in your breast condition which has lasted for more than one full menstrual cycle, it is highly recommended to get it evaluated from a doctor.
3. Know What to Expect
In order to evaluate a breast lump, your doctor will take your health history and physically exam your breasts. Mostly, you will also have to undergo breast imaging tests such as an ultrasound or a mammogram.
In case of further testing, your doctor may recommend MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), MBI (molecular breast imaging), and/or a biopsy.
Medical experts recommend that women should get into the habit of self-examining their breasts at least once a month. It is also a helpful practice to familiarise yourself with how your breasts normally look and feel.
You may also consider maintaining a journal to record the findings of your breast self-exam. You can make notes about your breast health before, during, and after your period. Especially after your period ends, your breasts are least likely to feel swollen and tender. During these weeks, you will know what is ‘normal’ for your breasts.
Meta Description: Breast cancer cannot always be prevented, but remaining proactive about your breast health will make you aware of anything unusual about your body. Furthermore, early detection of cancer can save your life, help you make informed decisions, and have a better dialogue with your doctor about your treatment.