Should I give myself a breast self-exam?
Giving ourselves a regular breast self-exam is often on that list of things we think we should do, but don’t. Like remembering our reusable shopping bags or vacuuming under the couch.
While most medical institutions don’t recommend breast self-exams as a part of breast cancer screening anymore, it really should still be a part of your overall self-care. It’s important for a woman to be familiar with the look and feel of her breasts so she knows her personal baseline for normal and if there are any changes that should be reported to her doctor.
Speaking of “normal” breasts, what does that mean? Well, there’s a pretty big range! Healthy breasts come with different amounts of dense or fatty tissue depending on your breast size, body weight, age and genetics. For many women, lumpy, bumpy breasts are part of their “normal.”
Ready to give yourself a self-exam for breast health awareness? There are just two simple steps:
- Look at your breasts in the mirror from different angles.
- Feel all around your breasts up to your collarbone and into your underarms.
If your breasts seem to pretty much stay the same month to month, most likely everything is fine. You should, however, make an appointment with your doctor if you notice:
- A hard lump or knot near your underarm
- Bulges, ridges, puckers or dimples
- A change in your nipple becoming inverted (pushed in) instead of sticking out
- Redness, warmth, swelling or pain
- Itching, sores or a rash
- Spontaneous nipple discharge, especially if it’s bloody
These symptoms could be a sign of breast cancer, a cyst or an infection. If you do find a lump, don’t panic! Eight out of ten lumps are not cancerous. Go ahead and set up a visit with your doctor to be sure.
A few other tips to consider when examining your breasts:
- Perform your self-exam about a week after your period ends. Hormone levels during menstruation can cause changes in breast tissue like swelling or tenderness.
- If you are having trouble remembering where your breasts’ various bumps and grooves are month to month, try drawing a picture to jog your memory.
- Compare your breasts. If you feel something in one breast and also in the other, this is most likely normal unless you notice changes over time.
Along with your annual well-woman visit and yearly mammogram (for women 40+), a regular self-exam for breast awareness is a great way to help you determine what is normal for you and if there are any changes you should report to your doctor.