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Tips for Giving Yourself a Breast Exam

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Tips for Giving Yourself a Breast Exam

More than 360,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the United States, making it the second most common type of cancer among women. In fact, only skin cancer rates are higher. Fortunately, breast cancer has a high survival rate when the cancer is caught early. Breast self-exams help.

Performing a breast self-exam enables you to spot unusual changes in your breasts that need to be evaluated by a medical professional. However, as important as self-exams may be, they’re no substitute for professional breast screening.

At Feminine Urgicare, our team offers breast screening to identify unusual changes that could be a sign of early breast cancer. In this post, learn how to perform a self-exam at home — and why you still need regular professional screenings.

Breast self-exam: Tips and techniques

First, try to perform your self-exam 3-5 days after your period begins. Women in menopause should schedule a self-exam for the same date every month. Your breast tissue can exhibit small changes throughout the month, mostly due to hormonal fluctuations. Performing the exam at the same time helps you identify changes outside of these regular, hormone-related changes.

Self-exams include both a visual exam and a hands-on portion. To begin, with your bra and shirt removed, stand in front of a mirror with your arms at your sides and visually examine your breasts for specific changes in appearance, like:

  • Changes around the nipples
  • A nipple that’s indented or directed inward
  • Skin that resembles an orange peel
  • Dimpling or puckering
  • Unusual changes in the shape or outline of each breast

Now, perform the same visual exam with your arms raised over your head.

Gently squeeze each nipple, paying close attention to any discharge or fluid. Examine the nipples for cracking or flaking. Gently palpate in each armpit, checking for lumps.

Now, lie down on your back. Raise one arm above your head and use your opposite hand to examine your breast tissue, gently palpating the entire breast and using the pads of your fingers to check for any lumps, bumps, or other changes in breast tissue. Switch arms and examine the other breast.

Ideally, you should use one pattern to examine your breast tissue. Some women prefer to move their fingertips in small circular movements, moving along the breast in a circular pattern. Others prefer to examine the tissue by moving their fingers from top to bottom. Whichever pattern you choose, be sure to explore the entire breast area.

The importance of professional screenings

Self-exams can be helpful for finding some changes associated with breast cancer. Unfortunately, by the time you can feel a lump, there’s a chance the cancer is already in a more advanced stage. That’s why having professional breast screenings is so important.

Professional screenings use ultrasound and X-rays to spot very small changes, including changes that are difficult — or impossible — to pick up during a self-exam. Our team offers on-site screening ultrasounds to check for non-cancerous changes like benign cysts, fibrocystic breast changes, and benign tumors called fibroadenomas.

Mammograms use X-rays to detect more subtle changes in breast tissue, including changes associated with cancer. For women with an average risk of breast cancer, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) updated its guidelines recently, recommending women at average risk of breast cancer have mammograms every other year beginning at age 40 and up until age 75. Current guidelines published by the American Cancer Society recommend annual mammograms for women 45-54, switching to every other year at age 55. 

It’s also worth noting that many medical societies and health agencies no longer recommend clinical “hands-on” breast exams for cancer screening at medical visits. That’s just one more reason why it’s important to have regular ultrasound screenings and mammograms to protect your breast health.

Schedule your screening exam today

Breast screening is essential for diagnosing the cause of breast symptoms like tenderness or nipple discharge and for looking for early signs of cancer. To schedule your screening, request an appointment online or over the phone with the team at Feminine Urgicare in Paramus, New Jersey, today.