Q: How should a breast self-exam be performed, and how often?
A: I am so glad you asked this question because performing monthly self-exams is so important in detecting breast cancer. As you can imagine, the earlier a lump is detected, the better chance of successful removal. A breast self-exam should be performed once a month, minimum. It never hurts to do it more often! Breast exams are most effective when done in the shower, in front of a mirror or lying down. I have outlined below how to perform each of these exams by yourself:
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 for any lump, thickening or hardened knot.
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.
3. Lying down
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.
Complete breast health includes a monthly self-exam, an annual breast exam performed by your healthcare professional and an annual mammogram. Mammograms should start at age 40 and should be done every year. If there is family history of breast cancer, discuss with your healthcare professional if a mammogram needs to be done sooner than age 40.
For more information about Agnesian HealthCare’s Obstetrics/Gynecology services or to schedule an appointment, call (920) 923-7400 or visit agnesian.com.