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Millions of women worldwide will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives. To help combat breast cancer, it's important to take preventive measures, as early detection plays a pivotal role in its successful treatment. One such preventive measure is breast self-exams.

At Advanced Women’s Care, we're devoted to raising awareness about breast cancer prevention and empowering women to manage their health. In this blog post, we'll discuss why breast self-exams are important, how to perform a self-exam, and what to do if you think you've found a lump.

Why Are Breast Self-Exams Important?

The American Cancer Society estimates that 287,850 new cases of invasive breast cancer(opens in a new tab) will be diagnosed this year. Moreover, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women, making it particularly important for every woman, regardless of age or family history, to perform a monthly self-breast exam and stay vigilant about her health.

Self-examination of breast tissue is one of the biggest tools we have when it comes to detecting breast cancer early. In fact, around 40% of breast cancer cases(opens in a new tab) are detected by women who felt a lump. Though other breast cancer screenings exist and are important, self-exams can be performed at any time in the comfort of your own home—no appointment necessary! By checking for changes in your breasts on a monthly basis, you give yourself the ability to detect signs of breast cancer early on, which can be life-saving.

What Should I Be Looking For?

When performing a self-exam, it is important to look for any signs of changes throughout your breast and armpit area. The easiest way to detect changes is by becoming familiar with the normal look and feel of your breasts through (you guessed it!) regular self-exams.

During the exam, look for any changes in the shape or size of your breast, as well as lumps, bumps, dimpling, or puckering of the skin, as well as changes in the nipple. Additionally, you'll want to keep an eye out for any discoloration in your breast tissue, such as redness and swelling, as well as any discharge or fluid coming from the nipple.

If you notice anything out of the ordinary, let our team know as soon as you can. We can help you take the next steps to properly diagnose and treat any potential problems.

Performing A Self-Examination

First, it's worth noting that the best time to perform a breast self-exam is during the week after your period. During this time, your breasts are generally less tender and swollen than usual.

Your self-exam should be performed in these three places:

  1. 1. In Front Of The Mirror

    To begin your self-exam, stand in front of a mirror with your arms at your sides. Examine your breasts visually for any changes in size, shape, or color. Then, raise your arms above your head to check for similar changes. You'll also want to lift your breasts to look for any lumps or pain on the underside.

  2. 2. In The Shower

    For the manual part of the breast exam, many people find it more comfortable to use soap and water in the shower to help their fingers glide over their skin. Start by placing your left hand on your hip, and then use your other to feel your right breast. You'll want to use small, circular motions with the flat part of your three middle fingers to feel for any lumps or changes in texture. Make sure to cover the entire breast and armpit area, as well as your collarbone.

    As you go, you'll want to use varying levels of pressure. The goal is to check your breast tissue at various depths so that you can detect any lumps in different areas. Use light pressure to examine the area closest to the skin, medium pressure to probe a little deeper, and firm pressure to feel the tissue near the chest and ribs. Remember to examine each area with different pressure levels before moving on to the next spot.

    Once you've finished with the right breast, switch arms and repeat the same process for your left breast. Be careful not to rush; enjoy your time alone and give yourself several minutes to complete the exam.

  3. 3. Lying Down

    After finishing your shower, it's time to lie down for a more thorough self-exam. When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly across your chest, making it easier to detect any lumps or abnormalities.

    To get started, lay down on a bed and place a pillow or folded towel under your right shoulder. Place your right arm behind your head and use the fingers of your left hand to feel for lumps in your right breast. Again, use the same circular motions and pressure levels as you did during the shower exam.

    Once you're finished with your right breast, switch sides and repeat the same process on your left. Again, take your time to ensure that you cover all areas of your breasts properly.

What Do I Do If I Find A Lump?

If you find a lump during your self-examination, the most important thing is to not panic. Most breast lumps are benign and don't necessarily mean that you have cancer. However, it's always best to have it checked out by your healthcare provider just in case.

At our office, we'll perform a clinical breast examination, mammogram, or ultrasound to further investigate the lump and determine a proper course of action.  We'll also review your medical history and any other relevant factors to ensure that you receive the best possible care, whether that's breast cancer treatment or something more minor.

It's important to remember that the earlier breast cancer is detected, the better. So if you find a breast lump or other irregularity during your self-examination, don't hesitate to reach out!

Are Self-Exams Alone Enough?

Unfortunately, no! While it's important to perform regular breast self-exams, they should not be used in place of a breast cancer screening, like a mammogram. Regular screenings are especially important for those over the age of 40, as this is when the risk for breast cancer increases significantly.

At Advanced Women’s Care of Pittsburgh, breast health is our top priority. Our board-certified team of OBGYNs specializes in offering comprehensive, high-quality care for all aspects of women’s health, including breast cancer prevention. Schedule an appointment online today to get the care you deserve!