Performing a self breast exam is rather important, but not many people know how to or why they should be doing them. Breast cancer is one of the more common types of cancer, which is exactly why you should be performing occasional checkups on yourself.
If caught early, it’s treatable, meaning that you could potentially save your life down the line if you perform them regularly.
Why Are Self Exams Important?
Not many people go to the doctor often to check their breasts, as they usually seem fine. Even if you do, not all early tests can discover underlying issues. By combining regular doctor visits with self-exams, you ensure that any potential cancer is caught early.
When cancer is discovered early it’s more easily treatable, and more options and solutions can be discussed with your doctor.
What Time of the Month Should You Perform a Self-Exam?
Women and people with breasts are usually affected by the menstrual cycle. The changing hormone levels affect your whole body, including your breasts, putting into question when the best time to perform an exam is.
For those who menstruate, it’s best to do it after your period has ended. Those who have gone through menopause or simply have very irregulat cycles can choose a day on their own. The important part is that a self breast exam is performed once a month.
It’s always a good idea to choose a day that’s easy to remember so that examining yourself becomes a habit. The first or last day of the month works perfectly for that.
Does a Breast Self Exam Take Long?
Some people believe that an exam like this takes a longer while to complete if you want to be thorough. The real truth is that it doesn’t take longer than a few minutes when you know what you’re doing.
The best part is that you don’t even have to set time apart specifically to do it. Instead, you can simply do it while or after you take a shower, when you’re getting dressed, or when you’re getting ready to get in or out of bed.
Are Examinations Really That Effective?
People hear about the necessity of self exams often, but a lot of them still doubt it can actually be such an effective method for early cancer detection. However, a study found that these exams are actually key in early detection and treatment.
The study questioned U.S. women and wanted to determine how crucial self-examination is for long-term survival. In the end, 57% of women reported that a mammographic examination wasn’t the way they discovered a lump.
18% discovered it by accident, and 25% did so thanks to self-examination. This led to the conclusion that even with more mammography screening, a significant number of breast cancers were detected by the patients themselves.
In truth, nobody knows your body better than you, and it’s much more likely you’ll pick up on a subtle change sooner than your doctor. Learning to examine yourself could end up potentially saving your life.
How To Do Breast Self Examination
While the process of self examination isn’t a long one, there are still some simple steps you should follow. They will help you keep all the important points in mind and help you more easily detect possible changes in your breasts.
The first step focuses on the visuals and will require you to stand in front of a mirror, take off your bra with your arms on your hips. While in this position, determine whether your breasts are their usual shape, color, and size. Keep an eye out for smelling or distortion.
A nipple that has changed positions or is pushed inward instead of poking outward could be a possible cause for concern. Other things you should look for are redness, rashes, soreness, bulging of the skin, puckering, and dimpling.
While these changes aren’t a cause for panic, you should still mention them to your doctor.
The second step is also based on changes you can notice visually. While in front of the mirror, raise your arms. Look for the same things you did in the first step.
In the position described, you’ll also be able to better see signs of fluid coming out of the nipples. Sometimes fluid can come out of one nipple, and sometimes from both.
The fluid can be yellow, water, or milky. It’s also possible to see signs of blood. Visiting your doctor is highly advised in these situations.
For the next step, you’ll need to lie down on your back. Put your left arm behind your head and use your right hand to perform the left breast check. Then, switch arms. You should touch your breasts firmly with the first few finger pads. As well as that, make sure your fingers are flat and together.
Move your fingers in a circular motion, and don’t make the circle bigger than a quarter.
Signs of early breast cancer can be present in other areas on your chest, too, so make sure to cover your breast from top to bottom. Start from the collarbone and move to the top of the abdomen, then from the armpit to the cleavage.
This pattern will ensure you cover the whole area, without missing any potential changes or lumps. You can also start at the nipple and create bigger and bigger circles with your fingers until you reach the outer edge of the breast.
Another tactic is to move your fingers vertically, up and down your breast. Most women say this approach works best for them.
It’s also important to remember to examine all of the tissue with your fingers. You’ll only need to use light pressure for the skin and tissue just beneath your breasts. Medium pressure is best for the middle of the breast, while deep tissue at the back can only be thoroughly felt with firm pressure. You’ll know you’re doing it right if you can feel your ribcage.
Lastly, it’s time to feel your breasts. You can sit or stand during this step, depending on what feels more comfortable. One tip we can offer is to do this step while you’re in the shower, as it tends to be easier to feel the breasts when they’re wet.
You should cover the entire breast with your hand, and use the same tactics we’ve described in step four.
What If Your Breast Self Examination Uncovers a Lump?
It’s possible that your self-exam will conclude with you finding a lump. It’s best to be prepared for any scenario, so here is what you can do if that does happen.
While your first reaction might be to panic and come to the conclusion that you have breast cancer, be aware that this doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, a lot of women have lumpy areas on their breasts or some lumps in general. Most of those lumps end up being benign, which is to say, they’re not cancerous.
Benign breast conditions, hormonal changes, and injuries could all be possible causes for benign lumps.
Consult Your Doctor
If you’ve noticed a breast change or found a lump that may worry you, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor. After all, they’ll be able to rule out the possibility of cancer the most easily. If a change lasts more than one menstrual cycle, it’s even more reason to talk to your doctor.
Those who menstruate should wait until their period is over and check if the newfound lump or other condition has improved, as sometimes hormonal changes can be the underlying culprit.
For your upcoming breast cancer check, it’s best to talk to someone who has treated you in the past, be it your primary care doctor, or gynecologist.
Breast exams aren’t the most pleasant things in the world. That’s why it’s good to prepare yourself mentally for the upcoming visit and learn more about what you can expect during the appointment.
It’s most likely that your doctor will ask you about your medical history before the physical exam of the breasts starts. In a lot of cases, the doctor will also have you do breast imaging tests. Mammograms and ultrasounds are the most common types of tests that you can expect.
Ultrasounds are recommended for those under the age of thirty, or are breastfeeding or pregnant. On the other hand, mammograms are more suitable for those over the age of thirty who aren’t breastfeeding or pregnant.
In cases where the doctor deems further testing is necessary, you’ll likely get an MRI, MBI, or Biopsy. Further evaluation can be conducted by a breast specialist that your doctor recommends.
Most importantly, make sure that you understand everything that the doctor tells you. Don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat things and don’t hold back any questions. This is your health we’re talking about, so having a clear picture of the situation is imperative for a peace of mind.
A self-breast exam doesn’t have to be anything foreign or scary. You should look at it as a part of taking care of your body. With regular checkups, you can be sure that nothing is wrong and that you’ll live a long and healthy life.