At-home breast exams are a great way of getting to know your body, as long as you’re looking for the right things. In recent years, the medical community has come to recognize that the consistency of the breast is much more important than the actual look of it when it comes to the early detection of breast problems. By the time a lump can be detected, the breast problem may have already begun to advance, so catching the issue before this stage is crucial. The real point is to get in touch with the typical look and feel of your breast so that you can notice any irregularities early.
How do I give myself a breast exam?
The good news is that self-exams are easy, and anyone can do them. Many doctors recommend that women perform at-home breast exams about once a month beginning around age twenty.
When doing your breast exam, make sure that your breasts are not too swollen or tender. During the month, hormone levels fluctuate, causing normal changes in breast size and tenderness, with most women reporting swelling and increased sensitivity around menstruation. These factors are generally least present about a week after a woman’s period has ended, when hormone levels dip and the body prepares itself for ovulation. For women who have gone through menopause, it is recommended that the exam be done on the same day each month so that months are not accidentally skipped.
During the exam itself, you will need to be shirtless and braless, and sitting or standing in front of a mirror. Some women also like to perform their exams while laying on their backs, because the breasts get flattened, making the tissue easier to feel. Some women also find it easiest to perform breast exams while in the shower, as the lubrication makes it easier to maintain a continuous motion around the breast. Find what works best for you so you can perform similar exams each month.
To begin your self-exam, do a visual check in the mirror. Make sure that there are no noticeable differences in the shape or texture or your breasts, including coloring, dimples and swelling. Keep in mind that breasts are not perfectly symmetrical, so if you notice any asymmetry it is likely the result of the natural state of your breasts.
Once the visual check has been completed, lift your left arm and place your hand behind your head. Starting by the armpit, use the pads of the fingers on your right hand to press into the tissue, rubbing in small, circular motions. Begin with light pressure and steadily increase to ensure that you are getting a sense of every layer of tissue in your breast. Using a simple pattern, continue to press on each part of your breast in the same manner. The most common patterns are pressing in rows up and down or side to side along the entire breast, moving in a spiral pattern towards the nipple, or moving in rows from the widest part of the breast to the nipple. Make sure that you use the same method each month, as changing your routine is more likely to result in missed sections of tissue, making the exam less effective.
Once you have completed this process on one side, do the same thing on the other side, using your left hand to examine your right breast. At the end of each exam, pinch your nipples to ensure that no discharge occurs, unless you are lactating. Use the mirror to ensure that each part of the breast is reached, and to note any changes in the appearance of your breasts.
What should I do if I notice a change?
First of all, don’t panic. The majority of breast changes are due to nonthreatening factors like changes in hormone levels or increased stress at home or work, which can lead to variations in the consistency of her breasts. If you find any inconsistencies, take note of them and keep an eye out for the area in future exams. Most of the time, these irregularities will go away on their own. Be sure to think about any changes in health, fitness, and lifestyle, and possible sources of additional stress to see what other factors might have caused the change.
In future exams, pay special attention to any areas where irregularities were found. If you notice that the inconsistency remains or gets more noticeable either in consistency, sensitivity or appearance, consult your doctor to see if a clinical exam is necessary.
You should contact your doctor immediately if you notice any changes in the color or texture of your breasts, if you find hard lumps or knots in your tissue or underarms, if you discover dimples or bumps in the breast tissue, if your nipples become inverted, or if you have any discharge from your nipples when not breastfeeding. Any of these could be signs of medical problems.
The more we touch our breasts, the more familiar we become with their typical feel, and the more likely we are to catch breast problems early. As women, the very best thing we can do is get to know our breasts and know them well so that we can spot problems and have them taken care of before they worsen. There are many ways to perform exams, and they take less than ten minutes. Remember that loved boobies are happy boobies. The more attention you pay to your breasts, the more likely you will be to catch problems early, keeping your breasts, and yourself, healthy for years to come.