As my mother passed from breast cancer in her early thirties, breast self-exams have become a familiar part of my life. It’s important for all women to do regular self-exams on their breasts, at least monthly, if not daily. It’s an easy, quick, and convenient way to check if your breasts are healthy or if you need to schedule a trip to the doctor to have them checked out. Early detection is key for battling breast cancer and self-exams keep us vigilant for any abnormalities.
Below are some tips from the American Cancer Society on how to perform an efficient breast self-exam. Try them at home and look out for an interview with The Denise Roberts Breast Cancer Foundation on mammograms and breast health later this month of The Grio, Clutch and Frugivore.
- Start by lying down and placing your right arm behind your head. In contrast to standing up, when lying down the breast tissue spreads evenly over the chest wall and is as thin as possible, making it much easier to feel all the breast tissue.
- Use the finger pads of the 3 middle fingers on your left hand to feel for lumps in the right breast. Make overlapping dime-sized circular motions with your finger pads to feel the breast tissue.
- Try three different levels of pressure to feel your breast tissue. Light pressure is needed to feel the tissue closest to the skin; medium pressure to feel a little deeper; and firm pressure to feel the tissue closest to the chest and ribs. Use each pressure level to feel the breast tissue before moving on to the next spot. It is normal to feel a firm ridge in the lower curve of each breast, but you should tell your doctor if you feel anything else out of the ordinary. If you’re not sure how hard to press, ask your doctor or nurse.
- Move around the breast in an up and down pattern starting at an imaginary line drawn straight down your side from the underarm and moving across the breast to the middle of the chest bone (sternum or breastbone). Be sure to check the entire breast area going down until you feel only ribs and up to the neck or collar bone (clavicle). There is some evidence to suggest that the up-and-down pattern (sometimes called the vertical pattern) is the most effective pattern for covering the entire breast, without missing any breast tissue.
- Repeat the above steps on your left breast, putting your left arm behind your head and using the finger pads of your right hand.
- Now stand in the mirror with your hands pressing firmly down on your hips and look at your breasts for any changes in size, shape, contour, or dimpling. Also, check for andy redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin.
Congrats … you’ve just completed your self-exam!