How to Perform a Breast Self-Exam

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast self-examination is an important step in the early detection of breast cancer. Along with clinical breast exams and mammograms, it can help detect cancer in the early stages, when it is often treatable. Women should start performing regular breast exams at home in their 20s, as stated by the American Breast Cancer Foundation

Three Ways to Perform a Breast Self-Exam

Whichever method of self-examination you choose, remember to:

  • Use the pads of your three middle fingers.
  • Check the upper chest wall and the underarms, as well as the breasts.
  • Exam your breasts visually in a mirror for any swelling or changes in shape.
  • Use different levels of pressure while performing the exam.

Breast self-exams can be performed with any of three different approaches:

  • Circular: Beginning at the outer edges of the breast, move the fingers in a circular motion around the entire breast. 
  • Wedge: Starting at the outer edges of the breast, move the fingers toward the nipples and back again, in small wedge-shaped sections, until you have covered the entire breast. 
  • Vertical: Beginning with the underarm area, move the fingers downwards and back up again, until the entire breast has been checked. 

How Often Should You Examine Your Breasts?

Adult women of any age should perform a breast exam at least once a month. Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancer is detected by women who feel a lump, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Regular self-exams keep you familiar with how your breasts look and feel, so you can be alert to any changes. 

Where Breast Self-Exams Should Be Performed

In the shower is a good place to examine your breasts. You should also inspect them visually, in front of a mirror. Look at your breasts first with your arms down at your side. Then raise your arms high over your head. Look for any swelling or dimpling of the skin, changes in contour, or changes in the nipple. Next, place your palms on your hips and press down to flex your chest muscles. Look for any dimpling, puckering, or changes on one side.

You can also examine your breasts while lying down. This position spreads the breast tissue evenly along the chest wall. To examine your right breast, place a pillow under your right shoulder, place your right arm behind your head, and use your left hand to examine the entire breast and armpit. Reverse the process to examine the left breast. 

Why You Need Mammograms In Addition to Self-Exams

Mammography can detect tumors of the breast before they can be felt. The earlier breast cancer is detected, the better. Breast self-exam plays an important role in early detection, particularly when combined with regular mammogram screenings. 

What to Do If You Detect a Lump

If you discover a lump while performing a breast exam, don’t panic. As stated by the National Breast Cancer Foundation, eight out of 10 lumps are not cancerous. Do schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. Our agent can help ensure you have the health insurance coverage you need.