How To Perform A Self-Exam For Breast Cancer

How To Perform A Self-Exam For Breast Cancer
[This blog post was written by Dr. Mia FInkelston, a doctor on Amwell.]

Get out your pink clothes, shoes, purses and hair ribbons - breast cancer awareness month has arrived!As we start October, be up to date on the latest breast cancer statistics so you can join in conversations or even start some:

  • Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women;
  • About 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer during their lifetime;
  • According to the American Cancer Society, about 40,000 women will die from breast cancer this year;
  • After increasing for 2 decades, female breast cancer incidence rates began decreasing in 2000;
  • Breast cancer is the 2nd leading cause of cancer death in women, lung cancer being the first;
  • The decrease in the death rate since 1989 is believed to be the result of earlier detection through increased awareness, appropriate screenings and improved treatments.

If you feel any lumps on your breasts or have immediate concerns, contact your local doctor immediately. But here are a few tips for giving yourself an at home breast examination:

How to perform a breast cancer self-exam:

Even though the ability to detect a cancer cannot be done solely by a self-breast exam, it is still recommended for all women over age 20 to get comfortable examining their own breasts.  The hope is that with regular exams, you will be able to detect any slight change and bring it to the attention of your doctor.  Your breast tissue changes as you age, with hormone fluctuations and during and after pregnancy. It is important to be aware and comfortable with these changes, after all, it is your body and a self-breast exam can be as quick as 2 minutes, Most importantly a self-exam can save your life!

Consistency is key, meaning you want to do this monthly and try to do it the same way. Once you get in the habit, you will find yourself examining without really thinking about it. I like patients to examine themselves just after their monthly period. Also, it's beneficial to perform the exam both when you're standing up as well as when you're laying down. The shower is the easiest place, though in front of your bathroom mirror would also work.

Raise one arm over your head and with the pads of the fingers on the other hand, start in a set area, like 12 o’clock and make small, firm circles around your breast. Do it in a pattern that is easy for you and be sure to reach into your armpit as well. At the end, gently squeeze your nipple around the areola to see if you have any discharge (do not squeeze too hard). Some discharge may be normal so note the color and share this information with your doctor. Then do the same on the other side.

After the shower, lie on your bed and do the same thing. This time you will be able to use your ribs as a firm backboard and your breast will flatten out more, thereby making it easier to feel all of the tissue you may not have felt while standing. Make sure you examine both breasts and nearby armpit.  And you're done - nice work!

Next time you go to your doctor, ask if they have a reminder card that you can hang in your shower as you get started or call the American Cancer Society and ask if they would send one to you.

When you go to the doctor, he or she may perform a clinical breast exam, but notnecessarily every year. There is new evidence that a good exam need only be done every 2-3 years.

Enjoy your pink-filled October and be sure to have some conversations about breast cancer!.

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