As a woman, you have a higher risk for certain types of cancer, including breast cancer. Even if you go for your annual health exam, it’s important for you to be checking your breasts on a regular basis for irregularities. But do you know how to properly perform a breast self-exam?
At New England Women’s Healthcare, our specialists are experts in breast health. Our six specially trained OB/GYN doctors not only teach you how to perform a breast self-exam, but also help you understand exactly what you’re looking for.
What is a breast self-exam?
Knowing your body is one of the best ways to discover when something is wrong. The only way you can completely know your body is by performing self-exams. Breast exams are just one of the ways you can detect breast cancer early on, before it becomes a bigger problem.
A breast self-exam includes palpating the tissues on and around your breasts with your fingers, and it helps you identify when something doesn’t feel normal.
At your yearly OB/GYN appointment, one of our specialists examines your breasts thoroughly to look for signs of early cancer. However, lumps or tumors can pop up at any time, so once a year just isn’t enough to keep yourself healthy and safe.
A breast self-exam is usually performed at least once a month. The more exams you do, the better you understand your breasts and know how they feel. Some conditions, such as fibrocystic breast tissue, can make it more difficult to feel lumps.
However, that’s the point of doing these exams — to learn what’s normal for you.
How to perform a breast self-exam
The first step to avoiding breast cancer is to understand how to properly perform your breast self-exam. There are several steps to successfully performing this exam, and they include:
The first step in performing your exam is to stand in front of a mirror, looking at yourself. You want your shoulders to be straight and your arms comfortable at your side.
You’re going to check whether your breasts appear symmetrical. You also want to look for any swelling, and that they’re the same color and shape as usual. It’s important that you really look at your breasts, and note any of the following changes:
- Inverted nipple
- Dimpling of the skin
- Swelling or rash
If you notice any of these problems, it’s important that you let our team know as soon as possible so we can make sure they aren’t signs of a bigger problem.
The second step to performing your breast self-exam also takes place in front of a mirror, except now you raise your arms over your head. With your arms in the air, you look for the same things as in the first step.
You also want to look for any drainage from your nipples. This could be fluid that resembles blood, or it could be milky in appearance. If you have fluid coming from your nipples, it could also be green or yellow.
The last step of your breast self-exam is to lie down and actually feel your breast tissue. Raise one arm above your head, and use the fingertips of your other hand to gently feel your breasts.
You want to use the pads of your fingers, and work your way around each breast in a circular motion. Use a soft but firm touch when you’re feeling around to make sure you can detect any small abnormalities.
Make sure in this phase that you cover every area of your breast, including above and below each one. You also want to check the whole way to each armpit, as lumps associated with breast cancer can also be found there.
Follow the same type of pattern every time you perform a self-exam. This assures that you don’t miss any area where a problem could be hiding.
Contact one of our offices in Wilmington or Woburn, Massachusetts, to schedule a consultation. You may also request an appointment with one of our providers using our online booking tool.