Breast cancer is something most women start to think about as they get into their 30s and 40s. It is a disease where malignant cancer cells start to form and spread in the breast tissue. The National Breast Cancer Foundation notes that every year, over 252,710 women in the US are diagnosed with breast cancer. The stats also show that one in eight women in the country will be diagnosed with this disease in their lifetime.
Over 40 thousand women die of breast cancer every year because this is the most commonly diagnosed cancer found in women. Breast cancer doesn’t just mean that it affects only women. It can affect men as well with over 2,470 men being diagnosed per year with over 460 dying because of not detecting it early enough. Fortunately, with mammograms at the clinic and monthly self-exams in front of the mirror, most women identify the signs of breast cancer before they become untreatable which is why there are over 3.3 million breast cancer survivors in the US still alive.
What Is A Breast Cancer Self Examination?
A breast cancer self-examination is a chance for you to assess your breasts for any lumps, thickenings, discharge, skin change or other unusual changes. Most of the time these changes are not life-threatening or cancerous, but you will need to confirm that by showing them to your doctor. Another reason for a self-exam is that performing this exam frequently will let you understand how your breasts feel and look when they are normal. So, in case something changes, you will notice right away and can have the changes checked out.
There is some debate in the medical community regarding breast cancer self-examinations with some experts expressing that this method of diagnosis could give some women a sense of security and denial regarding any changes in the breast tissue. But for the most part, some doctors recommend performing a breast self-exam every month for women of all ages like The Johns Hopkins Medical Center which states that “Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.” However, doctors also recommend you continue with your mammography appointments as well since this method can help find breast cancer even before you notice it yourself.
How To Perform A Breast Self Examination?
There are three ways you can examine your breast health including in front of a mirror, in the shower and while lying down. The senses that will be used will include the sense of touch and sight which can be easy to do and doesn’t require more than a few minutes of your time.
The three processes of self-examination are explained below:
In Front Of The Mirror:
- First, stand in front of a sufficiently large mirror in a well-lit room while being undressed from the waist up. Relax your arms to the sides and observe any changes in the size, shape, or position of the breasts. If one of your breasts are bigger than the other, that’s fine as this is common for most women and completely natural.
- You should also keep an eye out for skin changes as well as check for peeling or sores on your nipples.
- Now, turn to the side and tighten the chest muscles beneath the breasts by placing your hands on the hips and firmly pressing down. Observe the outer aspect of the breasts and repeat the process on the other side.
- Next, face the mirror and let your breasts fall forward by bending forward while rolling your shoulders and elbows to tighten the muscles in the chest. Again, observe for any changes to the shape or contour of the breasts.
- Follow this by observing the outer portions of the breasts by lifting your hand behind your head. You should also lift up your breasts to check the border underneath as well.
- Also, check the nipples for any discharge fluids by placing your thumb and forefinger on the surrounding tissue and pull them towards the nipple. Be sure to do this for both breasts.
In The Shower:
- While you are in the shower, move your hand across the breasts to feel for any changes since it helps to have slippery hands. Don’t forget to check the underarm area for thickening or lumps.
- Check your left armpit by using your right hand while leaving your left hand on the hip. Repeat the same on the other side.
- Next, check the areas above and below the collarbone for thickenings or lumps.
- After getting your hands slippery from soap spread the breast tissue of the left breast by raising your left arm behind your head and use the right hand to check for lumps or thickenings in the breast tissue. Do this by moving the flat part of your fingers in an up and down motion covering the entire breasts after several passes. After the left breast, check the right one.
In Bed Lying Down:
- To perform a breast cancer self-exam while lying down is simple. First, lie down with a soft pillow under the left shoulder with the left hand tucked behind your head. Then take your right hand and check the left breast with flat fingers moving about or the breast. This can get easier if you apply a moisturizer or lotion.
- Lie flat on your back to perform this check. If you imagine your breast as a face of a wall clock, move your flat fingers around the breast by starting at 12 o clock and moving clockwise until you finish a full circle. Then move an inch closer to the nipple and perform the same range of motion while feeling for any lumps or irregularities. Don’t also forget to check the upper outer areas that are near your armpits and maintain constant contact with the breast while checking to ensure you check thoroughly.
- Check your nipples by placing your fingers directly on the nipples to notice any changes beneath. After this, gently press your fingers so that the nipple moves inwards to check for any abnormal resistance.
What To Do If You Find An Unusual Lump?
If you find a lump or irregularity in the breast tissue, don’t panic because, most of the time (8 out of 10 times), the lumps are noncancerous but plan a visit to the doctor just to make sure. The doctor may ask you to perform a mammography which can detect cancerous tumors before being felt by you. This is also the reason that your monthly breast cancer self-examination should not stop you from getting your regularly scheduled mammography.
Michelle is the senior most expert who writes for this website. After completing her graduation and 10+ years of practice, Michelle has been involved and known for a lot of her philanthropy work. Michelle loves spending time researching and writing her papers. She occasionally writes for us and we are extremely proud to have her as one of our editors.