As October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, I thought I would be a good idea to review how to perform a self-breast exam. Ideally, you should check your breasts at least once a month. The best time would be about a week after your period has started. This is when your breasts will be least tender and you will less likely be retaining water from hormonal changes that occur before your cycle. If you do not experience regular periods or no longer get your period, perform the exam on the same day each month.
- Lay down with one arm placed above your head. This helps flatten out the breast tissue and makes it easier to feel for lumps.
- Use a systematic method to check your breasts. I prefer using a grid method-going up and down the breasts in a straight line, moving out towards the sides. Pay attention to areas you don’t necessarily think of as part of your “breasts” as breast tissue can be larger than you realize. Examine right from the midline of your chest, all the way to the sides of your trunk (imagine drawing a line down from the centre of your armpit down the side of your trunk). Be sure to go as high as your collarbone and down to your lower ribs.
- Using the grid method, apply pressure making small circles as you move up and down and side to side across the breasts, using the pads of your index and middle fingers. Try to vary the pressure at each spot and use gentle pressure to feel the upper layers of tissue and deeper pressure to feel all the way to the chest wall. Repeat on the opposite breast.
- While examining, note any lumps or nodules that you may find. Any new lumps or lumps that have grown in size or changed should be checked out by your health care provider immediately.
- Also be sure to check the appearance of your breasts. While standing, facing a mirror, watch how your breasts move as you raise your arms over head, with your hands on your hips, and as you bend forward so that the breasts hang. If you notice one breast moving differently than the other, this can be a concern. If you notice anything like dimpling or puckering of the skin, changes to the nipple, or discharge from the nipple, be sure to get checked out immediately by your health care provider.
- Complete the exam by checking for any enlarged lymph nodes or lumps in the center of your armpit. Lower your arm at your side and then check the centre of your armpit with your opposite hand. Also check the inside of your arm where it meets your armpit and at the sides of your chest wall (under the side of your pectoral muscles) and back (under the side of the muscles of your back). Repeat on the opposite side. Report any lumps or swellings to your health care provider.
Women’s breasts feel different just like hair and eye colour differs in appearance and there is a wide range of “normal”. Doing the exam monthly will help you feel more confident in what is “normal” for you and you will be better able to recognize a change, should it occur.
For a more basic (and humorous) video on how to perform a self-breast exam, check out this link and consider downloading the app to remind you when to do your exam! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsyE2rCW71o