Breast Cancer can be a devastating disease, especially if it is
not caught in its early stages. However, with frequent checkups
and examinations, you can help to lower your overall risk of
breast cancer and increase your chances of an early diagnosis.
This can make treatment much more effective, improving your
likelihood of complete recovery. Every woman over the age of 20
should know how to perform a breast self-examination. A breast
self-examination can help you to take an active role in your own
health and well-being and it may even help to save your life.
What is a Breast Self Examination (BSE)?
A breast self-examination is a test that you can perform on
yourself to check for any lumps, bumps, or irregularities in
your breasts. The breast self-exam involves looking at your
breasts for any changes or irregularities. It also involves
touching your breasts to assess their texture, shape, and size.
It is performed in the comfort and privacy of your own home.
Why Do Breast Self-Exams?
Though it may seem like a hassle, doing your own breast exams is
actually an extremely important part of a healthy lifestyle.
Regular and properly performed breast exams can help you to
detect the signs of many different types of breast cancer. This
is because breast self-exams allow you to become more familiar
with how your breasts look and feel. This will help you to
become aware of any changes or irregularities in your breasts,
improving the chances of an early diagnosis and successful
Should You Perform a Breast Self Exam?
Breast self-exams should be performed once every month by every
woman over the age of 20. By performing an exam each month, you
will become more familiar with how your breasts should look and
feel and you will be able to track any changes in your breasts.
Breast self-exams are most effective when performed at
particular times during the month:
Menstruating women should perform self exams seven to ten
days after their period, when the breasts are less tender
Pregnant women should perform self exams seven to ten days
after their periods would have arrived.
Women who are no longer
menstruating should perform their exams on days that are
easy to remember, such as the first or last day of the
Self Exams During Pregnancy
Breast self-exams are of particular importance during pregnancy.
Breast cancer can occur during pregnancy, and affects about 1
out of every 3,000 pregnant women. During pregnancy, you will
find that you experience a number of breast changes. This is due
to the increase in progesterone and estrogen in your
bloodstream. You may find that your breasts are bigger or more
tender then usual and this can make self-examination difficult.
Try to perform your exams on days
when your breasts are less sensitive, or perform examinations
while taking a soothing bath or shower. Be sure to have a
clinical examination performed at your first prenatal
appointment. This will allow your health care provider to feel
for any abnormalities before breast changes occur.
What to Look For During a
Breast Self Exam
During your breast self-exams, it is important to look at all
areas of your breasts: check the upper, outer area near the armpit; the lower
half of the breast; and beneath the nipple. You are basically looking for any
changes in breast shape or texture, or for changes in your nipples or breast
skin. Be on the lookout for:
hard lumps or knots beneath the skin
thickening, swelling, or dimpling of the skin
change in the size, shape, or symmetry of your breasts
nipple inversion or a change in the direction of your nipple
How to Perform a Breast Self Exam
Breast self-exams are fairly easy to do once you get the
hang of them. They generally take about 15 or 20 minutes. Be
sure to follow the steps as closely as possible.
Stand in front of a mirror with your hands on your hips and
your shoulders straight. Look at your breasts and check
their shape, size, and symmetry. Be sure to check for signs
of rash, dimpling, or swelling.
Raise your arms and continue looking in the mirror. Again,
check the shape, size, and symmetry of your breasts. Check
to see if your nipples have changed position or become
inverted. Look for dimpling of the skin.
Gently squeeze each of your nipples. Check for any type of
discharge, either milky, yellow, or bloody.
Now, lie down on your bed or on the floor with one arm
placed behind your head. Use your right hand to examine your
left breast, and your left hand to examine your right
breast. Using the first three fingers on your hand, palpate
your whole breast, from your collarbone down to the
beginning of your abdomen. Work in a circular motion,
starting with your nipple and gradually working your way
Next, feel your breasts while
sitting or standing. Cover the entire breast, feeling for
any lumps or changes in your breastsí texture.
What to Do if You Find a
If you find a lump in one of your breasts it is important not to
panic. Though the experience can be very stressful, it is important to keep in
mind that over 80% of all lumps found are actually benign (non-cancerous). Keep
monitoring this lump over your next menstrual cycle. If the lump hasnít
disappeared or appears to be getting worse, make an appointment with your health
care provider. Your health care provider will be able to perform a clinical
examination and assess the lump.