Breast Self-Exams & Mammograms for Early Cancer Detection
A breast self-exam is an at-home technique for identifying common symptoms of breast disease. When cancer forms in the breast, it usually appears as a lump or hardened knot — warning signs that can easily be detected by performing monthly self-examinations.
The most effective method for identifying breast cancer is a mammogram, an x-ray evaluation performed by a doctor. Annual mammograms are best when paired with monthly self-examinations because they can detect early stages of disease before they can be felt with a breast self-exam.
According to Johns Hopkins Medical Center, “Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.”
A Guide to Performing a Breast Self-Exam
Breasts don’t always match. In fact, few women have breasts that are equal in size and shape—so there isn’t a universal method of inspection. Just try and remember to identify areas of irritation, puckering, or unusual swelling.
A breast self-exam can be performed in three stages:
1) Visual Inspection
First, remove all articles of clothing from the waist up and inspect your breasts in front of a mirror. With both arms relaxed at your sides, examine the skin of your breasts for irregularities such as lumps, dimples, sores, or discoloration. Also check nipples for fluid discharge, inflammation, or peeling.
Next, apply downward pressure with both hands at your waist to flex your chest muscles. Turn from side to side as you inspect the outer areas. For each side, lift the breast and check underneath as well. Afterwards, examine again with your arms raised overhead.
2) Shower Examination
With soapy hands, move fingers in a circular motion around the entire breast area including the armpit and border area of the collarbone. Use the pads of your fingers to feel for bumps or hard boils.
Next, place one arm over your head and carefully press into the tissue of the breast with an up-and-down motion. Continue to feel for bulges or protrusions in this fashion from bra-line to collarbone. Repeat these steps again on the other side.
3) Lying Down
Position a pillow under your right shoulder and lie down with your right arm behind your head. With your left hand, use a circular pattern to feel the right breast and adjacent armpit. When you finish examining the entire right breast area, then repeat on the left side.
After checking the outer breast areas on both sides, gently press down on the nipple. Again, make note of blood discharge or swelling.
According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, “8 out of 10 lumps are not cancerous.” For peace of mind, however, the foundation recommends that you make an appointment with your doctor if you discover a lump while examining your breasts.