How to Perform a Breast Self-Exam

PHILADELPHIA– About one in eight women and one in 833 men will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women in the United States, after lung cancer. It is important to assess your personal breast cancer risk as breast cancer can be hereditary. Familiarize yourself with what is normal for your body and continue to do a breast exam every month to be safe.

We spoke to dr. Kristin Brill, Helen Nocher, Advanced Practical Nurse (APN) and Stacie Cipparone, Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) at the Jefferson Breast Care Center to explain the importance of breast self-exams and the best methods for performing them.

What is a breast self-examination?

A breast self-exam is something anyone can do in the privacy of their own home to determine if there are any abnormalities in their body. Helen Nietner reminds us that all bodies are different and it’s important to understand what’s normal for your body and when to make changes.

dr Kristin Brill recommends everyone over the age of 25 start with a monthly breast self-exam. Since both men and women are susceptible to breast cancer, both should do self-exams. These are best done in the shower as water can help guide your hands. Another option is to take your exam while looking in the mirror.

For women, your breast exams should be done a week after your menstrual cycle. If you feel an abnormality before or during your period, it may just be a cyst or swollen tissue. Additionally, your breasts may feel fuller, firmer, and denser in response to your hormonal cycle. However, if you notice changes or feel a lump that persists after your period, make an appointment to have it checked out.

How to perform a breast self-examination?

When you do a breast self-exam, you want to feel for all kinds of lumps, bumps, or anything that feels unusual to you. “Take your hands and gently slide your fingers over your breast tissue, starting in the upper outer quadrant and moving toward the nipple,” explains Nieting. “You will examine the opposite breast with the same movement. Look for nipple retractions, subtle changes, and feel for masses.”

Cipparone adds that it’s important to check your armpit by lifting your arm and gently running your fingers from your armpit to the outer part of your chest. Do this on both sides.

What are the next steps if you find something?

If you find something that feels irregular, don’t stress. “Not all bumps or lumps are cancerous; some are cysts,” says Nietzer. She recommends that you contact your GP or make an appointment with a breast specialist if you think you’ve found something. They will examine further and do imaging, such as an ultrasound, to identify the mass.

While breast self-exams are an important monthly routine, they should not be relied on alone for breast health. dr Brill recommends a baseline mammogram starting at age 35, and if the results are normal, wait until age 40 to get an annual mammogram. If there is a family history, talk to your doctor about what age to start mammography. For more information about mammograms, read our story on 10 things you should know about mammograms. How to Perform a Breast Self-Exam

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