Breast cancer is steadily moving up the ladder as a quiet killer and surprisingly many women are not familiar with the steps to take during a self examination. Most women tend to wait until their next visit to their gynecologist before worrying about a breast exam and most young women are under the misconception that they are too young to worry about breast cancer.
But, these simple steps, while initially embarrassing, might save your life. Breasts tend to be swollen right before and during your menstrual cycle, so wait three to four days after your cycle before your self exam. Examining your breasts is not difficult and takes very little time, but you to need to know what you are looking for.
- Begin with a visual inspection. Stand in front of a mirror and straighten your shoulders and place your arms on your hip bone. You are looking for colors or shapes that are out of the ordinary and breasts that are even without the appearance of swelling or distortion. If you notice any bulging, dimpling or puckers or if your nipples have begun to push or move inward, rather than outward, or if your nipple position has changed check with your family physician.
- Now, still standing in front of the mirror, raise your arms toward the ceiling and check for the same type of changes. You will also want to check for any fluid discharge from your nipples, either one or both. It may be a milky or yellowish color or it could be bloody or watery.
- Now move to a flat surface such as your bed. With your right hand check your left breast and use your left hand for your right breast. With flat fingers, using the pads begin on the outer edge of your breast and move your fingers around in a small, quarter size, circular motion. Your fingers should be together and your touch should be firm. You want to check the entire breast including the outer edges and from the armpit to the cleavage area.
Try to use a pattern so you know you have covered the entire area. You can start at the nipple and work out or you can move up and down across the breast. Check all the breast tissue. A light touch can be used to check tissue directly under the breast, a medium touch for the middle section and a firmer touch for the deeper tissue. In this area you should apply enough pressure to feel your ribcage.
- To finish the exam, stand or sit and work your fingers around the breast. Many women prefer to do this in the shower while their skin is wet. Check your entire breast with the same motions previously described.