No woman wants to hear the words “breast cancer,” but every year, doctors deliver this difficult news to 240,000 women. A breast cancer diagnosis is not one you want to be caught off guard by, so why not take your breast health into your own hands (literally)?
Breast self-exams are a tool every woman should have in her back pocket and one she should use often. But, if you’ve never done one, knowing where to start can be tricky (and maybe a bit awkward).
In this blog, our team at Prime Choice Family Clinic & Urgent Care in Frisco, Texas, walks through the finer points of breast self-exams, so you can confidently perform them and know your next steps.
Start with a visual examination
Before you start poking and prodding your chest, start by sitting or standing shirtless or braless in front of a mirror with your arms relaxed at your sides. You’re looking for:
- Puckering or dimpling
- Changes in size, shape, or symmetry
- Inverted nipples
Also, try pressing your hands down on your hips and raising your arms with the palms of your hands pressed together to evaluate all angles of your breasts. Finally, lift your breasts to make sure the ridges along the bottom are symmetrical.
Typically, you perform a breast self-exam while lying on your back on a flat surface. When you lie down, your breast tissue spreads out, making it thinner and easier to feel.
You can also perform the exam in the shower. To make it easier, we recommend lathering your fingers with soap to ensure they slide smoothly over your skin.
Use the pads of your fingers
Remember to use the pads of your three middle fingers, not the very tips. The pads are more sensitive, so they can help you pick up on more subtle changes in your breast tissue. If you have trouble feeling with the pads of your fingers, you can use your palm or even the backs of your fingers.
Apply different levels of pressure
Your primary goal is to feel all the breast tissue levels, so you need to use varying levels of pressure. Use lighter pressure to feel the tissue closest to the surface of your skin and use firmer pressure to feel as close to your chest and ribs as possible.
If you’re unsure how hard to press, talk with us at your next appointment, and we can give you a quick demonstration.
Don’t perform a breast self-exam when you’re getting ready to rush out the door. Give yourself plenty of time — at least a few minutes — to feel each tissue level properly. Make sure you palpate all the way into your armpit as well.
Follow a pattern
Being methodical about performing your breast self-exam can help ensure you won’t miss anything. Imagine the face of a clock over your breast. Start at your collarbone and palpate clockwise, moving your fingers toward your nipple as you go.
Gauging what’s normal and what’s not
You don’t necessarily need to be shocked if your breasts feel lumpy or look like they’ve changed. Changes can develop at various points of the menstrual cycle and at different life stages. Breasts also usually feel different in different places. For instance, you should notice a firmer ridge along the bottom of your breast and softer tissue elsewhere.
However, changes that you should bring to our attention include:
- A new or obviously hard lump or knot near your underarm
- Thickening or prominent fullness that’s different from the surrounding tissue
- Dimples, puckers, bulges, or unusual ridges in the skin of your breast
- Nipple changes
- Redness, warmth, swelling, or pain
- Itching, scales, sores, or rashes
- Bloody nipple discharge.
These changes don’t automatically mean you have cancer, but they should be tested further.
If you detect any of the above, you should call our office to schedule a women’s health appointment. We can perform an in-office exam to confirm the presence of an abnormality and refer you to a specialist for a mammogram.
Breast cancer is a serious women’s health issue, so you shouldn’t let it sneak up on you. If you want more help with breast self-exams, or if you want to speak with one of our experts about your breast health, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. Call 214-550-0911 or book an appointment online with Prime Choice Family Clinic & Urgent Care today.