Breast Self Examination
Why Should You Examine Your Breasts Monthly?
Most breast cancer is first discovered by women themselves. Since breast cancer found early and treated promptly has an excellent chance for cure, learning how to examine your breasts properly can help save your life. Use the simple 3-step breast self-examination (BSE) procedure described below.
When to Examine Your Breasts?
It is important to examine your breasts each month, at the same point in your menstrual cycle. Do not examine them during your menstrual period. Before the period, a woman's breast may swell and become tender or lumpy. This usually decreases after the period. Follow the same procedure once a month about I week after your period, when your breasts are usually not tender or swollen. After menopause or after a hysterectomy, check your breasts on the first day of each month.
What are the Techniques for Feeling or Palpating Your
- Always use your right hand to examine your left breast and vice versa.
- Use the middle 3 or 4 fingers of whichever hand you are using and not the thumb.
- Keep fingers flat and close together keeping the thumb extended and always feel with the sensitive "palmer pads" on the flat inner surface of your fingers.
- Breast cancer is best found by rolling the pads of the fingers over every area of your breasts gently feeling for any lumps, thickenings or hard areas.
What are the Steps for checking My Breasts? STEP (1)
Standing--In Front of a Mirror:
Standing undressed in a well-lighted room facing a mirror that allows you to see your breasts:
- Check for any changes in the shape or look of your breast (skin or nipple changes such as dimpling, scaling, color changes or discoloration, discharges, etc.)
- Carefully inspect your breasts with both arms at your sides.
- Watching closely in the mirror, move your arms above your head and clasp them behind your head and press elbows forward. Watch as you move both arms straight up over your head.
- Place both hands on your hips and press firmly on each hip to flex your chest muscles move forward and look for any dimpling or any unusual changes in contour.
- Now palpate your armpits and breasts as described above
- Gently squeeze the breast just above your nipple palpating gently to see if there are any lumps under the nipple areas. Milk the tissue down toward the nipple between the thumb and index finger.
- Repeat this step with your other breast by first changing to your opposite side and then repeating the steps listed above.
- Gently squeeze the nipple of each breast for any discharge.
STEP (2) While Lying down:
- Place a pillow or folded towel under your right or left shoulder.
- Raise one hand over your head
- Using the flat part of the fingers of your opposite hand, press gently against your breast. Begin with exploring your armpit and then with your index finger next to your collarbone.
- Move around your breast in a set way. You can choose either the circle (A), the up and down line (B) or the wedge (C). Do it the same way every time. It will help you to make sure that you have gone over the entire breast area, and to remember how your breasts feel.
STEP (3) While in the Bath or Shower:
For best result, this step should be done along with each of the other evaluations (steps).
- Raise your right arm. With soapy hands and fingers flat, check your right breast. Your hands will glide easily over breasts when your skin is wet.
- Repeat the same steps outlined above for the standing and lying positions
What to Do if You Find a Lump or Thickening?
If a lump, dimple or discharge is discovered during a self exam, it is important to see your health care provider as soon as possible. Don't be frightened. Most breast lumps or changes are not cancer, but only your health care provider can make the diagnosis. Remember, however, that your monthly breast exam is not a substitute for an examination by a medical professional. See your health care provider once a year (more often if you are in a risk group) and get a mammogram as recommended. According to American Cancer Society, ages 35-39 one baseline mammogram; over age 40, one every year.