October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month; one in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women. Adult women of all ages are encouraged to perform breast self-exams at least once a month.
While mammograms can help you to detect cancer before you can feel a lump, breast self-exams help you to be familiar with how your breasts look and feel so you can alert your doctor if there are any changes.
How should a breast self-exam be performed?
1) In the shower
Using the pads of your fingers, move around your entire breast in a circular pattern moving from the outside to the center, checking the entire breast and armpit area. Check both breasts each month feeling for any lump, thickening, or hardened knot. Notice any changes and get lumps checked by your doctor.
2) In front of a mirror
Visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead. Look for any changes in the shape, any swelling, or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples. Next, rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Left and right breasts will not exactly match—few women’s breasts do, so look for any dimpling, puckering, or changes, particularly on one side.
3) Lying down
When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions covering the entire breast area and armpit.
Use light, medium, and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for your left breast.
If you find a lump, schedule an appointment with your doctor, but don’t panic – eight out of 10 lumps are not cancerous. For additional peace of mind, call your doctor whenever you have concerns.