Self-Breast Exam Tips
You 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. This practice helps 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 tips to give yourself an effective 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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
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 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.