Performing a breast self-exam every month is one of the most important things you can do to promote breast healthand prevent cancer. Become familiar with your breasts, and how they look and feel. By doing so, youll be aware of any scar tissue or dents that are normal for you, and can work to develop your own intuition about the health of your breasts. Youll also become more sensitive to any subtle changes in your breasts that might indicate the need to see your doctor.
Dr. Lark professes that there are three main components to a good breast self-exam. The first is the timing of the exam, the second entails a visual examination, and the third involves palpation (physical examination) of the breast tissue.
Do your exam at the same time each month. If you are still menstruating, perform your exam after your period has ended. Your hormone levels are at their lowest during this time, and your breasts will tend to be less lumpy and swollen.
Step 2Visual Examination
Take a good, long look in the mirror. While standing in front of a large mirror, hold your arms over your head, clasping your hands together. Look at your breasts for the following signs: an indentation in the breast that wasnt there before; one nipple is inverted; eczema on either or both nipples; discoloration of nipple; and/or discharge from the nipple that is not a result of squeezing. Next, place your hands on your hips and gently bring both elbows forward in front of you. Look for the same signs listed above.
Step 3Physical Examination
If your breasts are on the larger side, it may be best to do the manipulation part of the exam lying down. However, if you have small- to medium-sized breasts, you can perform the exam standing up. Just be sure to stand up straight. If you lean forward, glands and other benign nodules can feel like lumps and cause undue worry.
First, raise your left arm over your head and place it behind your head. Examine your left breast with your right hand. Picture your breast as a clock, with the nipple as the center. Moving clockwise, start in the 12:00 position, beginning at the nipple, and with firm but gentle pressure, press into your breast tissue with the pads of your fingertips, examining up as far as your collarbone, and as far to the sides as your armpits. Next, move to 1:00, 2:00, and so on, until youve examined the entire breast. Once you have finished examining your left breast, raise your right arm over your head, and repeat the procedure on your right breast.
Dr. Lark recommends that all women ages 20 and older perform monthly breast self-exams and have their physician do a clinical breast exam every yearat the same time they have their annual Pap smear. Starting good health practices early in life has been shown to increase compliance over time.
Women over 65 need to be especially vigilant with their screenings, as nearly 50 percent of all new cases occur in this small segment of the population (13 percent of all women), yet result in two-thirds of all breast cancer-related deaths.