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Breast Self Exams: Make a monthly date

Dec 02, 2019
Breast Self Exams: Make a monthly date
Breast self-exam (BSE) is pretty much what it sounds like: you make a monthly date to get a look at your breasts, up-close and personal.

Breast self-exam (BSE) is pretty much what it sounds like: you make a monthly date to get a look at your breasts, up-close and personal. According to Johns Hopkins Medical Center, 40% of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so a BSE is a worthwhile addition to your self-care routine.

While a BSE is not a replacement for an annual screening test (like a mammogram) for breast cancer detection, we believe there is value in knowing what is “normal” for your body. The more familiar you are with how your breasts look and feel, the more likely you will be to notice if a change occurs.

When should you do a breast self-exam?

Pick a date on the calendar when you can set aside 10-20 minutes. If you menstruate, the best time to perform a self-exam for breast awareness is usually the week after your period ends, when your breasts are least likely to be tender and hormonal swelling is down. Many women find it helpful to just put a monthly reminder for the same day and time. However you choose when to do it, remember that consistency is helpful to establishing familiarity with your normal.

What should you look for?

Not all cancers form a lump, so knowing what your breasts typically look like is as important as how they feel. In addition to simply getting familiar with the terrain of your body, when performing a BSE, you will want to be looking/feeling for:

  • Change in skin color and condition
  • Redness and chest pain
  • Changes to the nipple
  • Changes to breast size
  • Nipple discharge (especially if the discharge is bloody)

How do you perform a breast self-exam?

Start by looking at yourself, without a shirt or bra, in the mirror. You can be sitting or standing for this. Leaving your arms at your sides, examine your breasts visually, looking for symptoms such as puckering, dimpling or changes in size, shape or symmetry of your breasts. Lift the ladies and check the underside. Repeat this process with your hands on your hips, and again with your arms raised overhead and your hands pressed together (“high prayer pose” for the yogis out there).

Next, you’re going to get hands-on with yourself. For this, stay standing or sitting to start. This step will focus on the way your breasts feel – texture of the skin, and the make-up of the breast tissue. Use the flat pads of your middle three fingers, applying three levels of pressure: light (barely moving the top layer of skin), medium, (about halfway through the thickness of the breast), and deep (pressing down to the base of the breast).

You will apply each of these pressure levels up and down, in an outward spiral, and in circles around each breast breast.

Next, you can either lay down on your back and repeat the process of feeling both breasts.

It’s important to remember that, even if you do find a lump, 8 out of 10 lumps are NOT cancerous.

Remember, self-breast-exams are about knowing your body and what is “normal” for you. It should absolutely not be used as a substitute for an annual screening mammogram.

Want more information on performing a breast self-exam? Download this hand(s)y PDF for step-by-step directions.