Part Two: How to Perform a Self-Breast Exam
According to Johns Hopkins Medical Center, all women over the age of eighteen should perform monthly self-breast exams. They suggest doing your exam at the same time every month because normal hormonal fluctuations affect breast tissue. It is important to be able to distinguish between a normal, hormonal change compared to a suspicious, abnormal change.
How Should A Self-Breast Exam Be Performed?
1) In the Shower
Check for any irregularities with your three middle fingers. Press down with light, medium, and firm pressure on your breast and surrounding areas like your armpit.
2) In Front of a Mirror
Visually inspect your breasts with your arms to your sides and then, raise your arms high overhead. Look for any dimpling of the skin or swelling. Keep track of changes in the nipples or changes in the contour of your breast.
Finally, put your hands on your hips and press firmly in order to flex your chest muscles. Breasts generally don’t match each other perfectly, so just keep an eye out for any recent changes like dimpling, puckering, etc.
3) Lying Down
This is another good way to check because your breast tissue spreads out evenly along your chest wall when you are lying down. First, put a pillow under your left shoulder and your left arm behind your head. Using your right hand, move your fingers around your left breast gently covering the entire breast area and armpit.
Use light, medium, and firm pressure. Turn over and repeat all of these steps on your right breast. Finally, squeeze each of your nipples while checking for lumps and discharge.
What Should I Be Looking Out For?
Changes In How The Breast Feels:
● Nipple tenderness
● Thickening near or on the breast
● An enlargement of pores in the skin of the breast or thick and pitted skin (the medical term for these symptoms is Peau d’orange.)
● A lump in the breast (please remember that even though not all lumps are cancerous, all lumps should be examined by your doctor.)
Changes In The Breast’s Appearance:
● Any unexpected change in the shape or size of your breast
● Dimpling anywhere on the breast
● Unexplained swelling of the breast (especially if only on one side)
● Unexplained shrinkage of the breast (especially if only on one side)
● Recent asymmetry of the breasts (only if the onset of asymmetry is recent)
● A nipple that is turned slightly inward or inverted (only if the inversion is recent)
● The skin of the breast, areola, or nipple becomes scaly, red, or swollen (also if the breast has ridges or resembles the skin of an orange)
● Any nipple discharge, if you’re not breastfeeding, is worth bringing up to your doctor but especially clear or bloody discharge.
● It is also important to note that a milky discharge that is present when a woman is not breastfeeding should be checked by her doctor, although it is not linked with breast cancer.
Can I Rely On Breast Self-Exams Alone?
A mammogram can identify tumors early, before they can be felt, so screening is fundamental for early detection (when care is appropriate, guideline-recommended and combined with regular medical care.) Self-breast exams can help women know what is normal for their bodies and they can report any changes to their healthcare provider.
If you find a bump or a lump, schedule an appointment but don’t panic because 80% of lumps are benign. For additional peace of mind, call us at 530-345-0064, extension 281, whenever you have concerns.
To find out more about clinical breast exams, come back next week for part three of this blog.