Performing a monthly breast self examination is an important part in maintaining healthy breasts. Recently, some healthcare professionals have denounced the usefulness of doing these monthly tests citing that the results are inaccurate and women may worry unnecessarily. While it is true that mammograms give far more accurate readings, breast self examinations are still helpful. More often than not, you or your partner may notice if something is not right before your scheduled mammogram.
By examining your breasts every month, you become more familiar with what is normal for your breasts and what is not. Most women will have their first mammogram after the age of 50 or sooner if there is a family history of breast cancer. When the tests are only conducted once a year or every other year, there are several months in between appointments. Monthly breast self examinations will help you to keep tabs on your breasts in the meantime.
When to examine your breasts
Select a time each month to perform a breast self examination. If you are still menstruating, wait at least five days after your period to avoid the usual swelling. No longer have your period due to menopause or pregnancy? Simply pick a day and stick to it. You can even sign up for a monthly email reminder from many breast care associations.
Know your breasts
The breast area actually includes the underarm area which is part of the lymphatic nodes system. Your breasts contain many layers of muscles, lobe, ducts, and tissues. It is vital to check the entire area, and become familiar with the way your breasts feel. The more you examine your breasts, the more you will be able to know what they should feel like which makes it easier to detect when something is not normal. You also need to know what your breasts look like so you can notice any changes in their appearance; these changes can signal something is not right.
How to examine your breasts - visually
Stand or sit in front of a mirror, with arms down at your sides. Then raise your hands above your head, and then lower them to place your hands on your hips. Watch for any of the following changes in appearance:
*Puckering of the skin
*Dimpling or ‘orange peel’ appearance
*Redness or scaliness that may be accompanied with itchiness
How to examine your breasts – though feel
This is best done in a shower, or by soaping up the breast area, to allow easier movement. Using the tips of your first three fingers, apply firm but gentle pressure to the breast area. Move your fingers over the breast in a circular motion without lifting your fingers off the breast.
Be on the lookout for any lumps or bumps that are new. Note that most of the time there will be no pain with these lumps. Notice if there has been any thickening of the breast area, or any areas that have become hardened. Finally, continue this process upwards to include the underarm area.
Repeat the entire process while lying down on your back. This gives the breasts a chance to spread out a bit and can make it easier to detect any changes. Finally, examine the nipple area for any signs of the skin being red, cracked, or scaly. You can very gently squeeze each nipple and check for any signs of unusual discharge. Check to make sure your nipples are pointing outward and not inward.
Performing monthly breast self examinations is important as part of your overall health regimen in between mammograms. The more familiar you become with your breasts, the easier it will be to detect any changes. Just a few minutes each month will go a long way to helping you maintain healthy breasts during menopause and beyond.
Want a monthly breast self examination reminder delivered to your inbox? Sign up for free at www.breastselfexam.ca/reminder.
Menopause, Your Doctor, and You