Instructions for Performing a Self Breast Exam

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer can be diagnosed early on with the use of routine mammograms, clinical and breast self-exams. Finding abnormalities in the breast in the early stages of cancer can greatly reduce the risk of severe complications or even death. When a physician diagnoses breast cancer, several factors are considered when determining the prognosis. Treatment is typically more successful in women who find breast cancer early on. Making use of these cancer detecting tests can save the lives of thousands of women each year. It could also potentially save even more women as they realize the importance of early breast cancer detection and the tests that diagnosis it.

Early Breast Cancer Diagnosis Recommendations from the American Cancer Society

  • Routine yearly mammograms should be conducted for women 40 years and older.
  • Clinical breast exams (CBEs) should be scheduled prior to a mammogram and every three years for women between the ages of 20 and 39.
  • Women in their 20’s should take advantage of breast self-exams but be aware of their limitations. Breast self exams do not replace a routine mammogram or clinical examination. Women should know how a normal breast feels and report any changes or abnormalities in the breast to a physician immediately.
  • Changes or abnormalities in the breast, such as swelling, lumps or bumps, dimpling, skin irritation, nipple or breast pain, retraction, scaliness, redness of the breast or nipple or any unusual nipple discharge (besides that of breast milk) should be evaluated by a physician. In many cases, changes in the breast are not cancer related.

Guide to Performing a Breast Self-Exam

Finding a lump or bump in the breast does not always indicate whether or not it may be cancerous or benign in nature. This is why women should see a physician to discuss new abnormalities in the breast. The physician will examine the breasts and may have the women undergo a mammogram to determine if the lump is benign or if it may be a sign of cancer. If there is a suspicion that the new lump may be connected to breast cancer, a biopsy may be conducted. A follow-up exam with the physician is typically recommended to check for future changes in the breast.

It’s quite possible for a cancer-related lump not to be felt by the woman, or the physician during a breast exam. However, the small lump would be seen on a mammogram. Mammography is one of the most sensitive methods of breast screening but in rare cases, does not detect breast cancers that can be felt by a women or physician.

Breast Cancer Awareness and the Use of Breast Self-Exams

The benefits of breast self-examinations should be explained to women, starting in their 20’s. Physicians should discuss that a BSE does have certain limitations and therefore, should not replace routine CBS and mammograms. Women should be fully aware of how their breast normally appear and feel, and report any uncertainties or changes to a health professional. Not all breast abnormalities found mean that cancer or another severe condition is present.

Women can notice changes in their breast by being aware of slight breast changes or by setting up a schedule to routinely conduct a breast self-exam using the systematic step-by-step method. If interested in doing a BSE, below you will find a step-by-step guide to lead you through the process. Women should conduct a BSE when their breasts are not sore or swollen (typically not around the time of their period). Exams should also be done on a regular basis for women who have breast-implants, are pregnant or are breast-feeding. A physician can critique your self-check method and provide you with the proper technique for the more effective BSE. Breast self-exams can be done regularly or only occasionally.

If you prefer not to conduct a BSE, changes should still be reported to your physician immediately and scheduled mammograms and professional examinations should be completed.

Instructions on How to Perform a Self Breast Exam

  • The SBE should be conducted while lying flat on your back with your right arm lying straight up, parallel to your head. SBEs should be done while laying, not standing, because the breast tissue is evenly distributed across the chest wall while lying flat making it easier to detect lumps.
  • Using your left hand, feel for lumps or bumps on your right breast, using the soft padding on the three middle fingers. In small, circular motions gently press down on each area of the breast.
  • To feel each tissue layer in the breast, use different amounts of pressure. Lighter pressure will be needed to effectively feel the top layers of tissue while firmer pressure will be needed to feel deeper layers. When pressing to reach deeper layers, you may come across a firm ridge. This is nothing to worry about and merely indicates a breast curve. When you’ve completed all the areas on the right breast, repeat on the left breast using your right hand. Draw imaginary lines on your breast to ensure you’ve check every spot. Move across the sternum (breast bone), both up and down, over the ribs and up to the clavicle (collar bone).

Studies have shown that the vertical pattern (going up and down on the breasts) is an effective method of covering all areas of breast tissue. Future breast changes may be found by looking in the mirror. Stand straight with your hands firmly on your hips as this position contracts the muscles in the chest wall, enhancing any abnormalities or changes in the breast. Closely check for dimpling of the skin or changes in breast size, contour or shape. While standing or sitting up straight, examine your underarms. Gently raise your arm to a comfortable position, but without raising them straight as this tightens the tissue, making it difficult to examine.

Performing routine breast self-exams can help to find any changes that may not have been diagnosed in previous examinations. Changes in breast tissue represent a review conducted by an expert advisory group that suggests that pressure on the tissue during a BSE while lying down using various amounts of pressure is the best way to find lumps within in the breast. Previously measured using silicone breast models, finding small cancerous or benign lumps in the breast using the BSE can be highly effective.

It’s important to remember that any abnormalities or changes in the breast should be reported to a physician immediately.

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