Most of us know the basics to staying healthy: Balanced diet? Check. Regular exercise? Check. Examining our breasts? Make sure you check.
While the American Cancer Society recommendations don’t recognize self-exams as a diagnostic tool for breast cancer, it’s still important to know your breasts and to be aware of lumps and changes. Get them checked as soon as possible if you notice any changes because as with most cancers, early detection is key to more successful treatment. There are a number of different ways to conduct a self-exam. Here are some guidelines.
Take a Good Look: The Mirror Exam
With your arms relaxed at your sides, notice the contours of your breasts, getting a baseline on what your breasts look like. Don’t worry if your breasts aren’t exactly identical to each other; the vast majority of women have differences in the size and shape of each breast.
Next, press your hands onto your hips and tighten your chest muscles. Pay attention to any puckering or dimpling of the skin.
Lastly, put your hands behind your head, pressing forward, and look for any unusual lumps or unusual bunching of skin.
Lather Up: The Shower Exam
The shower is a good time for a self-exam since wet, soapy skin can be easier to exam.
Start by raising your right arm above your head and using your left hand to do up-and-down sweeps of your entire breast up to the collar bone and from armpit to cleavage. Note any places where the skin feels dimpled, scaly or inflamed, and feel for areas where the tissue feels thick or inflexible.
Repeat the process on the other side.
Laying it all Down: The Supine Exam
Lie on your back. Start with a pillow under your right shoulder, place your right hand behind your head and use your left hand on your breast with your fingers flat. Move your hand in circular motions with light pressure and look for any small lumps in the breast. Be sure to cover the entire breast toward the under arm area. Next, place your flattened fingers on your nipple. Feel for textural changes and gently press the nipple. When you’re done, move your pillow and start again on the other breast.
The point of self-exams is to familiarize yourself with your body so you can spot when something is amiss, they should not be used as self-diagnosis. If you do find a lump or concerning mass, don’t panic, but do contact your physician for further examination.
For the Fellas
Breast cancer is not just found in women. The American Cancer Society estimates that 2,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in men in the United States this year.
Risk factors for men can often relate to a mother with a history of breast cancer. Men often find a lump but delay going to the doctor because their follow-up tends to not be as consistent as women when they have a concern. As with women, it is important for men to be aware of their breasts and contact their physician if they notice any changes.
For more information on breast health and how to conduct a self-exam, speak with your Lahey Health provider.