I first wrote about this topic last July (2007). It remains relevant, so I will simply re-post it.
Recently a small study at Leo Jenkins Cancer Center, North Carolina found that most women with breast cancer had found their own tumors through self examination. "Conclusions: Most breast cancers (75%) were found by self-examination, even among women who had regular mammography. We did not find any demographic factor that predicted mammography as the primary method of tumor identification. These findings suggest that self-examination remains an important method of breast cancer identification." Photo credit.
The Five Steps of a Breast Self Exam:
- Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips. Look for any changes in the size, shape, and color. Look for any dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skin. Has the nipple changed position or become inverted? Is there redness, soreness, a rash, or swelling?
- Now, raise your arms and look for the same changes.
- While you're at the mirror, gently squeeze each nipple between your finger and thumb and check for nipple discharge (this could be a milky or yellow fluid or blood).
Next, feel your breasts while lying down, using your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left hand to feel your right breast. Use a firm, smooth touch with the first few fingers of your hand, keeping the fingers flat and together. Cover the entire breast from top to bottom, side to side—from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage. Follow a regular grid pattern, so that no areas are missed.Begin examining each area with a very soft touch, and then increase pressure so that you can feel the deeper tissue, down to your ribcage.
Finally, feel your breasts while you are standing or sitting. Many women find that the easiest way to feel their breasts is when their skin is wet and slippery, so they like to do this step in the shower. Cover your entire breast, using the same hand movements described in Step 4.
If you find any changes, lumps, or nipple discharge, then call your physician. Schedule an exam and mammogram. For a video teaching guide, check out the Susan G Komen web site. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, but it can be successfully treated. The key? Early detection.