Most Breast Cancers Are Detected at Home—Here Are 3 Ways to Give Yourself a Breast Self-Exam

Julian Birchman, HelloGiggles
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, one in eight women in the US will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. That's about 12% of American women. It is the most common type of cancer in women worldwide (aside from some skin cancers) and can happen to anyone, regardless of family history. That's because, while doctors continue researching breast cancer, they haven't found a specific cause as to why some women develop it. What they do know is that certain lifestyle-related risk factors, such as what you eat and how much exercise, can affect your chances of getting breast cancer, as well as certain hormones, and whether or not you have a family history. To stay informed about potential breast cancer risks, early detection is key.
The good news is that you know your breasts best, and an easy way to keep up with any oddities - especially if you know you are at higher risk - is to have regular breast self-exams at home. We reached out to two doctors to learn how to do a breast self-exam, how often to do it, and what to look for. Here's what they had to say.
What is a breast self-exam?
"Breast self-exam is the regular, systematic examination of your breasts for the purpose of detecting breast cancer," explains Nicole Sparks, M.D., gynecologist and brand ambassador for The Hello Cup.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a clinical breast exam (the type done while examining your wife in the office with a doctor) is recommended for women 25 to 39 years of age and every one to three years annually for women becomes) 40 years and older.
Dr. Sparks tells us that recommendations for breast cancer screening with mammography are based on a patient's individual risk factors, including a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, gene mutations, age, and smoking. If you have any of these risk factors, earlier screening is likely recommended.
How often should you have a breast exam?
"Self-breast exams should be done once a month because almost 40% of breast cancers are diagnosed at home by patients," says Dr. Huong Nghiem-Eilbeck, MPH, a board certified obstetrician-gynecologist with Pandia Health.
According to, the best time to do a monthly breast self-exam is around three to five days after your period, as your breasts are less likely to be swollen and tender at this point due to hormones.
These regular exams are important because, according to Dr. Nghiem-Eilbeck, some breast lumps appear harmless because they are not visible or cause no pain. Also, many women don't see their doctors for at least a year while others may miss their suggested annual mammograms.
"Breast self-examination, however, is different from breast self-awareness," says Dr. Sparks. She tells us that monthly breast self-exams are not always recommended in women with average risk due to the potential harm of false positives and the fear and risks involved. "However, we recommend breast self-awareness, which means that you should be clear about what is normal for your breasts to look and feel." According to Sparks, every woman should familiarize herself with her breasts while keeping an eye on their normal shape, size, color, and appearance so that if there are any changes you can contact your doctor.
Not sure what's abnormal? Dr. Says Nghiem-Eilbeck, “Breasts will not be perfectly symmetrical, but they shouldn't change much such that skin colors, dimples or wrinkles on the skin, discharge or blood from the nipple, or new lumps become apparent - a self-examination. "
The more you do this, the better you can tell the difference between how the chest wall feels (bumps in the ribs) and normal breast tissue.
How do you do a breast self-exam at home?
Start in the shower.
While you're in the shower, the National Breast Cancer Foundation recommends using the pads / flats on your three middle fingers to check the entire chest and armpit area by pressing down with light, medium, and firm pressure. "I tell patients to imagine mowing a lawn and methodically examine the breasts from the outside in so you don't miss any key areas," says Dr. Sparks.
The easiest way to do this is to position yourself with one arm above your head and work your way from the chest plate to the armpit. The wetness from the shower will help your hand slide more easily over the entire surface of your chest, ensuring that all areas are checked.
Start with one breast and then move on to the other.
Look at them in the mirror.
The next time you want to jump out of the shower or get dressed, take a moment to visually examine your breasts with your hands on your sides. They don't have to be completely symmetrical (in fact, most women's breasts aren't), but "note any changes, such as dimples in the skin or inverted nipples, especially on one side," says Dr. Sparks. Then repeat the exam with your hands on your hips. NBCF's instructions are, "Put your palms on your hips and squeeze hard to flex your pecs." This will help you notice changes in the shape or contours of the breast.
Feel lying down.
The last way to get a thorough breast self-exam is to lie down. Dr. Nghiem-Eilbeck guides us through the process: “Use the ball of the middle three fingers to move in small circular movements and press it down the chest wall in an organized manner. Start at the armpit area and then move the circular motion across all four quadrants to make sure that you have covered the entire chest area. “Repeat these steps on the next breast.
In this position, you can feel parts of your chest that are difficult to examine in other positions, such as your chest. B. while standing.
What are you looking for?
Just like a clinical breast exam at a doctor's office, the purpose of a self-exam is to look for any changes in your breasts.
If you're not sure about what to feel for, Dr. Nghiem-Eilbeck said: "Some lumps feel like balls under the skin that move, while other lumps may not be as mobile." Additionally, the Susan G. Komen Foundation lists warning signs as follows:
a lump, hard lump, or thickening in the chest or armpit area
Swelling, warmth, or darkening of the chest
Change in the size or shape of the breast
Pitting or wrinkling of the skin
However, not all lumps are considered cancerous and of concern. In fact, 8 out of 10 lumps are not cancerous. Common types of benign breast lumps are abscesses (pus that cause inflammation), cysts (fluid-filled sacs in breast tissue), and fibroadenomas (firm, smooth, firm, non-cancerous (benign) lumps) that you may feel. These may or may not be painful depending on the type, and only your doctor can diagnose them.
For this reason, "new lumps, regardless of age, should be taken to a doctor if additional tests such as ultrasound or mammography should be performed," says Dr. Nghiem-Eilbeck.
If you have chest pain (dull ache, tenderness, burning, sharp pain, or just a feeling of uncomfortable fullness), try to determine if the pain is cyclical and usually occurs around your menstrual cycle. If so, it could be caused by hormones. However, if the pain is not clearly related to your menstrual cycle, lasts more than two weeks, is only in one spot, or is getting worse, talk to your doctor.
What if you find a lump?
If you find a lump during a self-exam, try not to panic. Call your doctor (for example, your gynecologist, family doctor, or a nurse who works with your gynecologist or family doctor). According to, "at an appointment to assess a breast lump, your doctor will take a medical history and physical exam of the breast and most likely order breast imaging."
Your breast health history is also important to know, as reports: "You are far more likely to have a genetic mutation related to breast cancer if you have blood relatives (grandmothers, mother, sisters, aunts) with either your mother or yours Mothers have paternal side of the family diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 50. "If more tests are needed after mammography and ultrasound assessment of the lump, your doctor may send you for further imaging with an MRI or MBI and / or Refer you to a breast specialist for further assessment.

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