There has been increasing debate on whether or not women should do breast self-exams (BSE), however, between 20-40% of all breast cancers are diagnosed based on changes the woman detected herself. Getting to know your “girls” helps women notice if there are any changes out of the ordinary and to monitor any new breast changes that may pop up. Performing BSE regularly once a month is key in detecting and addressing any breast health concerns. The best time of the month to do a BSE is 2 to 3 days after the end of your period. If you are not menstruating due to menopause, breastfeeding, or pregnancy, choose a consistent day of the month, such as the first of the month, and regularly do the BSE that day. Here are some tips on BSE. Don’t panic if you think you feel a lump. Most women have some lumps or lumpy areas in their breasts all the time. Breasts tend to have different “neighborhoods.” What’s important is that you get to know the look and feel of your breasts’ various neighborhoods. Women often find it helpful to start a journal where they record the findings of their BSE. This journal can act like a small map of your breasts helping you remember from month to month what is normal for your breasts. Does something stand out as different from the rest (like a rock on a sandy beach)? Has anything changed? Alert your doctor to any changes in your breasts that last over a full month’s cycle or seem to get worse or more obvious over time. It is not unusual for lumps to appear at certain times of the month, but then disappear, as your body changes with the menstrual cycle (if you are still menstruating). Only changes that last beyond one full cycle, or seem to get bigger or more prominent in some way, need your doctor’s attention.
7 Easy Steps to the Breast Self-Exam
1. Standing in front of a mirror, inspect both breasts for any changes in shape, dimpling, nipple discharge, or skin changes.
2. Clasp hands behind your head and press hands forward, watch for changes.
3. Press hands firmly on hips and bow slightly towards the mirror as you pull your shoulders and elbows forward, watch for changes.
4. Raise one arm and use three or four fingers of your opposite hand to feel for any changes in the breast tissue. Be thorough and follow a consistent pattern. Start at the outer edge, press the flat part of your fingers in small circles, moving the circles slowly around the breast. Cover the whole breast and armpits. Repeat on the other breast.
5. Gently squeeze each nipple and look for discharge.
6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 lying flat on your back with your arm over your head and a pillow or folded towel under the shoulder of the breast you are examining.
7. If any changes are found, make note of these and consult with a healthcare provider.
Alene Falomo, ND
Disclaimer: The information above is intended for informational purposes only. Always consult with your health care provider if this is suitable for you.