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A Beginner's Guide to a Breast Self-Exam

According to recent studies, about one in eight women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetime. As one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in U.S. women, it is important for women to understand how the disease is diagnosed and how to be proactive in self-exams.

Mammogram tests are one of the best ways to look deep inside the breast tissue for anything abnormal. Getting a mammogram screen, as advised by your physician for women ages 65 to 74 has been shown to reduce breast cancer-related deaths.

Between mammogram screenings, self-breast exams can be performed. These exams can be administered regularly and in some cases, can play a major role in diagnosing or preventing breast cancer.

Below are some tips for administering self-breast exams:

Once a month

Make sure to check your breasts once a month at minimum. This is not only so you can get accustomed to how your breasts feel, but so you can develop a schedule. Make sure not to do the breast exam in the week leading up to and during the week of your menstrual cycle as the breast tissue can swell with the hormonal changes in your body.

The rule of Threes

It is recommended that you should give yourself an exam in three different positions — the shower, in front of the mirror, and when lying down. This is so you can feel the breast in different positions. Here is what to look for:

  • When in the shower: Using the pads of your fingers, move around your breast in a circular pattern from the nipple moving outwards to the armpit area. You will want to check for hardness, knots, thickening, or lumps. If you notice a lump, contact a doctor right away for a breast lump screening.
  • When looking in the mirror: Inspect your breasts first with your arms at your sides and secondly with your arms raised. Look for swelling, dimpling of the skin, or abnormalities in the nipple. Then, put your hands on your hips and push forward so your chest muscles are flexed and see if anything changes or disappears.
  • When laying down: It is important to complete an exam while lying down as this is when the breast tissue spreads out against your chest’s wall. Prop your right shoulder up with a pillow, and with your right arm above your head, use your left hand to examine your breast as you would when in the shower. Focus especially on the nipple and look for any redness, swelling, or discharge. Repeat for your left breast, using the right hand.

This simple five-minute breast exam can help diagnose breast cancer early. If you have any questions about a breast exam or how to schedule a mammogram, please contact your healthcare provider or one of our primary care or women’s care providers.