What Women Should Know About Breast Self-Exams
Early detection of breast cancer is the main objective of routine breast care. According to the CDC, breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer among women in the United States. Early detection provides the best possibility for successful treatment. Early detection plans include performing monthly self-exams, regular visits to your doctor for scheduled clinical breast exams, and following your healthcare provider’s recommendations for mammograms, which depends on your age and health history.
Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Most people who have breast cancer symptoms will initially notice only one or two signs, and the presence of these symptoms does not automatically mean that they have breast cancer. These include:
- A change in how the breast or nipple feels
- A change in the breast or nipple appearance
- Any nipple discharge, particularly clear or bloody discharge
If you have any of these symptoms, you should tell your healthcare provider so that the problem can be diagnosed and treated. Most often, these symptoms are not due to cancer, but any breast cancer symptoms you notice should be investigated as soon as they are discovered.
While mammograms help you detect cancer before you feel a lump, breast self-exams help you get familiar with how your breasts look and feel so you can alert your doctor if any changes occur. Women should do self-exams about 7-10 days from the beginning of their menstrual cycle or about the same time each month if they no longer have a menstrual cycle. Use these steps:
Step 1: Start the self-exam by removing your clothing and standing in front of a mirror. Look for any changes in the size, shape, or color of your breasts and any changes to the skin and nipple, such as sores, dimples, or redness.
Step 2: Check all angles of your breast by lifting and looking underneath them, as well as from the sides. Put your hands over your head and repeat the process of checking all angles.
Step 3: Next, lie down and feel each breast with the opposite hand, using a firm touch and circular motion. Keep your fingers together and flat. Repeat the same step while standing.
Step 4:Using light, medium, and firm pressure, pull or squeeze your nipple forward and check for fluids and/or discharge.
Adult women of all ages are encouraged to perform breast self-exams at least once a month.
Who Should Get Checked
Your physical exam should include a clinical breast exam (CBE) by a healthcare provider or nurse trained to check for breast problems. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends:
- Between ages 29 and 39, women should have a CBE performed by a healthcare professional every one to three years.
- After age 40, women should have breast exams by a healthcare provider every year.