Johns Hopkins Medical center states,
“Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.”
I was one of those women who felt a lump in my own breast (followed by a chilling lump in my throat). I didn’t say anything until the next morning, because I went to bed hoping that I would wake up and the lump would magically be gone. It wasn’t. I saw my doctor that afternoon, and he assured me that it was “very unlikely” that I had breast cancer. Boy, was he wrong. An ultrasound, mammogram and eventual biopsy confirmed my worst fear. Mammograms are important, but knowing your own body and keeping an eye out for any changes is equally important – I’m living proof. So, I’m including information on both self-exams and mammograms in this post. Please educate yourself and your friends and family – it can literally save your life.
Adult women of all ages are encouraged to perform breast self-exams at least once a month.
While mammograms can help you to detect cancer before you can feel a lump, breast self-exams help you to be familiar with how your breasts look and feel so you can alert your healthcare professional if there are any changes.
How should a breast self-exam be performed?
1) In the Shower
Using the pads of your fingers, move around your entire breast in a circular pattern moving from the outside to the center, checking the entire breast and armpit area. Check both breasts each month feeling for any lump, thickening, or hardened knot. Notice any changes and get lumps evaluated by your healthcare provider.
2) In Front of a Mirror
Visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead.
Look for any changes in the contour, any swelling, or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples. Next, rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Left and right breasts will not exactly match—few women’s breasts do, so look for any dimpling, puckering, or changes, particularly on one side.
3) Lying Down
When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions covering the entire breast area and armpit.
Use light, medium, and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for your left breast.
Breast Cancer Screening Reminder
The American Cancer Society encourages women to make healthy lifestyle choices such as eating a healthy diet, getting regular physical activity, and reducing alcohol, if a woman drinks. These choices can help reduce their breast cancer risk. The American Cancer Society also encourages regular breast exams and mammograms to find breast cancer early, when it is most likely to be curable. A screening reminder, to remind you to get your breast exam and mammogram, is a free, easy way to help busy women remember to take care of themselves.
Why Get Screened?
Numerous studies have clearly shown that getting a mammogram and a breast exam reduces the risk of dying from breast cancer. Breast cancers found during a mammogram are more likely to be smaller and still confined to the breast. Finding breast cancer early (called early detection) can improve the chances that breast cancer can be treated successfully and with more treatment options, less extensive surgery, and ultimately, better treatment outcomes.
Who Should Get Screened?
The American Cancer Society’s current Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines recommend:
- Yearly mammograms at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health
- Breast exam about every 3 years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and over
- All women should know how their breasts normally look and feel and should report ANY breast change promptly to their doctor or nurse. Breast self-exam (BSE) is an option for women starting in their 20s.
How Does Our Breast Cancer Screening Reminder Work?
You fill out a brief form. We will email you a reminder on the first day of your birth month with the breast cancer screening tests we recommend based on our latest guidelines. Breast cancer screening may include breast exams by your doctor, mammograms, and other tests based on your age and other factors.