Breast exams are performed to check for any unusual changes to your breast tissue. These checks are an important way to be proactive with your breast health—early detection is the best protection. Do you know how to do a monthly breast self exam? Prioritizing breast health: your guide to breast exams.
Early Detection Tools
Finding a problem or cancer in your breast, and finding it early, is your best chance for a successful outcome. There are three detection tools all women should utilize.
These breast screening tools include:
- A clinical breast exam by your gynecologist
- A monthly self-exam
- Regularly scheduled mammograms
A mammogram is the best way to detect cancerous tumors, even the smallest. This screening tool can find one before either you or your gynecologist can feel it. It is recommended that all women 40 and older begin to have mammograms every 1 to 2 years. Women younger than 40 who have risk factors should talk with your OBGYN about when to begin.
Monthly Breast Self Exams
The purpose of doing a monthly breast self-exam is knowing what’s normal for you. Breast self-exams are important for your breast health, but not to the exclusion of a regular mammography screening or a clinical exam by your gynecologist. Women should begin doing this at any age.
Knowing what’s normal for your own breasts can help alert you to an issue. Bring that to the attention of your OBGYN should you notice any changes. If you are still getting your period, plan to do the exam after you finish menstruating. That way you avoid any breast tenderness. There should be no pain while performing a breast self-exam.
If you are in menopause simply pick a certain day of the month to perform your self-exam.
The Visual Exam
Start by looking in the mirror at your breasts with your hands by your side. Notice their shape, your nipples, asymmetry, any puckering, or dimpling. Look for nipples turned inward. Then raise your hands over your head with palms pressed together.
The Manual Exam
The next part involves touching your breasts to discover any abnormalities like lumps. You can do this lying down on your back which forces breast tissue to spread out and easier to feel any changes.
You can also do the manual part in the shower with soap, so your hands will glide easily using the pads of your fingers and with different pressure.
Let your doctor know if you feel any hard lumps or knots, redness or warmth, swelling or pain, sores or rashes, or a nipple discharge to name a few.
A breast self-exam does not replace mammograms or regular visits to your gynecologist.
Ask your OBGYN to evaluate your breast self-exam technique, or show you the most effective way.
When breast cancer is detected early and remains localized, the 5 year survival rate is 99%.
Adult women of all ages are encouraged to perform breast self-exams.