Breast Cancer Awareness: Self Exam

Breast cancer self-examination, or routinely inspecting your breasts on your own, can be a valuable tool for detecting breast cancer early, when it is more likely to be effectively treated. While no single test will detect all breast cancers early, believes that breast self-examination along with other screening procedures can improve the chances of early diagnosis.

There has been some dispute concerning the value of breast self-examination in finding breast cancer early and boosting the chances of survival over the years. Breast self-examination, for example, has no effect on breast cancer survival rates and may even injure women by triggering needless biopsies, according to a 2008 study of over 400,000 women in Russia and China (removal and examination of suspicious tissue). The American Cancer Society no longer recommends breast self-exam as a screening strategy for women with an average risk of breast cancer due to the persistent ambiguity highlighted by this and other research.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

How to do a breast self-exam: The five steps

Step 1

Stand in front of the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips, looking at your breasts.

Here are some things to watch for:

Breasts that are the same size, shape, and color as they were before Breasts with a uniform shape and no obvious deformation or edema Please notify your doctor if you notice any of the following changes:

Skin that is dimpling, puckering, or bulging. An inverted nipple or a nipple that has changed position (pushed inward instead of sticking out) Swelling, redness, discomfort, or rash

Step 2

Raise your arms and examine them for the same changes.

Step 3

Examine your nipples in the mirror for any signs of fluid leaking from one or both of them (this could be a watery, milky, or yellow fluid or blood).

Step 4

Now, while lying down, feel your breasts with your right hand on your left breast and your left hand on your right breast. Keep your fingers flat and together while applying a firm, smooth touch to the first few finger pads of your hand. Make a quarter-sized circular motion with your hands.

From your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage, cover the entire breast from top to bottom, side to side.

To ensure that you cover the entire breast, follow a pattern. You can start at the nipple and work your way outwards until you reach the outer edge of the breast. As if you were mowing a grass, you can also move your fingers vertically in rows. Most women tend to respond best to an up-and-down strategy. Feel all of the tissue in your breasts, from the front to the back: light pressure for the skin and tissue just beneath; medium pressure for the tissue in the middle of your breasts; hard pressure for the deep tissue in the rear. You should be able to feel down to your ribs once you’ve reached the deep tissue.

Step 5

Finally, whether standing or sitting, feel your breasts. Many women like to conduct this step in the shower since it is easier to feel their breasts when their skin is moist and slick. Using the same hand movements as in step 4, cover your entire breast.

“The biggest misconception about mammography is that it picks up every breast cancer. In fact, mammography misses at least 10% of breast cancer. So if you feel a lump that doesn’t show up on a mammogram, bring it to your doctor’s attention. Get it evaluated.”

Susan Greenstein Orel, M.D.

How to make breast self-exam part of your breast cancer screening strategy

Make it a habit. The more you inspect your breasts, the more you will understand about them and be able to detect changes. To acquaint yourself with how your breasts regularly look and feel, make it a practice to undertake a breast self-examination once a month. Examine yourself a few days after your period is over, when your breasts are the least puffy and painful. If you don’t have periods anymore, pick a day that’s easy to remember, like the first or last day of the month.

Paraphrased from

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