The Importance of Monthly Self-Breast Exams

Did you realize that women, who perform monthly self-breast exams, find 90 percent of all breast masses? Approximately 80 percent of these masses turn out to be benign; however, 20 percent turn out to be cancerous. The earlier breast cancer is found, the better your chance for survival. That’s why it’s important to make self-breast exams a part of your monthly health care routine.

There are five steps to performing a self-breast exam:

Step One: Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror. Stand straight with your arms on your hips. Breasts should be evenly shaped without visible distortion or swelling. Breasts should be their usual size, shape, and color. You should contact your doctor if you notice dimpling, puckering or bulging of the skin which doctors refer to as “peau d’orange.” Check to see if your nipple has changed position or if it is inverted (pushed inward). Make sure there is no redness, swelling, soreness or rash.

Step Two: Raise your arms over your head and check for the same changes as described above.

Step Three: While you’re at the mirror, check your nipples for discharge by gently squeezing the nipple between your finger and thumb. If you notice any discharge that is bloody or clear in color, notify your physician.

Step Four: Now feel your breasts while you are lying down. Use your right hand to feel your left breast and your left hand to feel your right breast. Use a firm touch with your first few fingers, keeping the fingers flat and together. Cover the entire breast from top to bottom-starting at the collarbone to the top of your abdomen.

In order to cover the entire breast, follow a pattern. You can use a circular motion by starting at the nipple and moving in a larger circle to reach the outer breast or you can move your fingers up and down vertically (like you were mowing the lawn).

It’s important to feel the entire breast tissue by using a soft touch, then deeper with a firmer touch. Increase the pressure so you can feel the deeper tissue down to your breastbone and ribcage.

Step Five: Lastly, feel your breasts while you are sitting or standing. Many women prefer to examine their breasts while they are in the shower when their skin is wet and slippery. Cover your entire breast using the exam same movements as described in step four.

When you perform self-breast exams at the same time each month (preferably after your period), you will know what your normal breast tissue feels like. Some women have “lumpy” breasts or fibrocystic tissue, which makes it crucial to do regular self-breast exams. The majority of lumps are found in the upper outer quadrants (41 percent) and the area behind the nipple (34 percent), so particular attention should be paid to these areas.

If you feel a lump, contact your physician for a clinical breast exam. Don’t wait and hope the lump goes away because early detection is the key to survival.

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