Self-Breast Exam Tips

pink ribbon that represents breast cancer awareness monthYou may have heard there are many advantages of performing breast self-examinations. Women sometimes detect lumps that prompt their physicians to send them for mammograms, which can uncover signs of breast cancer.

You should also perform breast self-exams for other reasons. Breast exams help you become familiar with your breasts so you can report any changes in them to your physician. Most changes are benign, but occasionally there is a more serious reason for them.

If you have never self-examined your breasts, you may be unsure how to begin. Follow these exam tips to give yourself an effective breast self-exam.

Tips for Breast Self-Exams

Here are a few ways you can learn to do your examinations quickly, thoroughly and effectively:

  • Ask your doctor or healthcare provider to show you how to do it: Talk to them about what they recommend for their patients and to explain what you should be looking for. While online guides can be helpful, speaking to a breast specialist is a great way to ensure effective examination.
  • Time your exams to your menstrual cycle: Choose a time of the month when your breasts are less tender. Many women do this during the week after their period. If you examine your breasts at the same time every month it’ll be easier to detect breast lumps or breast changes.
  • Look in the mirror before you start: Begin by examining your breasts to get a feel for what they look like. Search for dimpling and puckering, and note the shape and size of the breasts. Examine them with your hands raised as well and look beneath each breast to judge their symmetry. This will help you identify changes in the future.
  • Do the physical exam standing up or in the shower: The tissue thins out when you lay down. You will also find soaping your fingers helps in the shower.
  • Use the pads of your three middle fingers: Apply different levels of pressure and do it in a constant pattern to assure you do not miss any parts. For instance, you might do it circularly along with light pressure.

Women with disabilities that make it difficult to do any of this should ask their doctor for tips on how to proceed.

What Are Normal Lumps in the Breast?

All breasts have lumps. You will become familiar with these as you perform your exams regularly. Most lumps are normal and do not require a trip to the doctor. Abnormalities in the breast may include very hard lumps near your underarm, and you should inform your physician immediately.

Other changes you should notify your doctor about include:

  • Sores or rashes on the breast
  • Newly inverted nipples, pointing in rather than out
  • Swelling or pain in the breast
  • Any irregular breast tissue

When to Start Self-Breast Exams

Doctors generally recommend that women begin performing self-breast exams in their early 20s. Teenage girls’ breasts are still growing, and they change a lot during this process. It’s also extremely rare for a young girl to develop breast cancer. For those reasons, physicians say it is unnecessary to perform self-exams until you get older and your body has finished going through changes.

Still not sure how to perform a self-breast exam or want some extra guidance? Hamilton Health offers patient-centered health care at our state-of-the-art facility. Make an appointment with us today to discuss your breast health and breast condition.

More Resources for Women

Top Skin Cancer Prevention Tips

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, affecting more people every year than all other types of cancer combined. Most cases of skin cancer are caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. This radiation comes from the sun as well as from some artificial sources like tanning beds.

Though it’s difficult to avoid UV rays entirely, you can prevent damage to the skin and detect skin cancer early to reduce your chances of getting the disease and increase the likelihood of successful treatment. Here are five easy skin cancer prevention and early detection tips you can use to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Stay in the Shade

umbrella preventing the sun from giving skin cancer

One of the easiest ways to limit exposure to UV radiation is to stay in the shade. The sun’s rays are strongest in the late spring and early summer and between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily. While it’s healthy to spend time outside, be mindful of how long you spend in the sun during these periods, and stay in the shade when you can.

Cover up With Clothing

The clothes you wear can also help protect your skin from damaging UV rays. When spending time outside, wear clothes that cover most of the skin. Protect the face and neck by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, and protect the eyes by wearing sunglasses that provide UV protection.

Choose a Good Sunscreen, and Apply It Properly

It’s not always possible to stay in the shade or wear covering clothes, especially if you work outside. As a result, wearing sunscreen is an important part of skin cancer prevention. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Use a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher every day and SPF 30 or higher during extended outdoor activity.

Put on sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside, and reapply every two hours and after swimming and excessive sweating. Make sure to check the expiration date and avoid leaving the bottle in the sun or heat, as this can reduce its effectiveness.

Avoid Tanning and Tanning Beds

Tanning can damage the skin and increase your risk of skin cancer. Avoid tanning outside, and never use a tanning bed. If you still want to tan, use bronzers or self-tanning lotions approved for cosmetic use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) instead. These products don’t require sun exposure to work.

Check Your Skin Regularly

Early detection of skin cancer can help improve your chances of overcoming the disease. Examine your skin monthly to look for spots that have appeared or changed in shape, size or color. If you notice an unusual spot, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor. You can also see a medical professional for a yearly skin exam.

At Hamilton Health Center, we provide affordable physical exams for all Central Pennsylvania residents. We believe everyone deserves access to healthcare, which is why our multicultural and bilingual staff members work hard to make Hamilton Health Center your home for health. If you’re worried about skin cancer or have questions about skin cancer prevention, make an appointment with us today.