How to do a breast exam at home
Early detection of breast cancer can save lives. This is why breast self-exams are recommended and should be a part of every woman’s life as early as 21. With October being Breast Cancer Awareness month, now is the perfect time to learn how to do this important health check yourself. Here is a step-by-step guide to help you through your first breast self-exam.
Stand in front of the mirror with your back straight and your arms on your hips. Check if your breasts are their usual size, shape and colour without swelling or visible changes.
What to worry about: dimples, puckering, bulging skin, inverted nipples, redness, soreness, rash or swelling.
Raise one hand behind your head and look for any changes with the other. Don’t forget to also check your armpits.
Check if there is any fluid, other than milk, coming out of one or both of your nipples.
Lie down and cup your hands. Use your right hand to feel your left breast and vice versa. Keeping your fingers close together, feel all around your breast in a circular motion.
Stand or sit up and feel around your breasts in a circular motion (the same as Step 4).
Tip: Try this while bathing or in the shower. Some women find it easier to do a breast self-exam when the skin is smooth and wet.
Remember, your breasts change with puberty, menstrual cycle, pregnancy and hormonal replacement therapy (like contraception). Don’t worry too much if you see slight changes while experiencing any of the above. Most women have lumps in their breasts all the time and 90% of these lumps are not cancerous.
It helps to get to know the look and feel of your breasts as it makes it easier to detect any changes. Anything that doesn’t feel hard (like the knuckle on your hand) is probably nothing to worry about.
Women who menstruate should examine their breasts a few days after the menstrual cycle to avoid getting confused by any swelling or sensitivity brought on by their period.
A home breast exam diary can help you keep track of each exam and its findings. Note your findings after every exam, particularly when you may have found lumps or breast changes. This will help keep track what’s normal for your breasts and long any changes, if any last.
The breast self-exam is not in any way a replacement for a formal medical examination. Women in their 20s and 30s should get a breast exam performed by a medical practitioner every three years and women older than 40 should do the same each year.
Otherwise, you see your doctor if any of the following occurs:
- If you feel a change in your breasts or a lump that lasts longer than two menstrual cycles.
- For women 40 years and older: if you feel any lumps.
- For women younger than 40: any change in breast size or shape that lasts longer than 2 menstrual cycles, and discharge from one or both nipples.
- When you feel a lump that is hard, immovable and attached to the chest wall.
The female breast naturally has different areas with different textured lumps. Confused? For example: the upper, outer area of your breast may feel quite lumpy. The lower half of your breast may feel sandy. The important thing is to know your ladies like the back of your hand to avoid unnecessary worrying.
Did you know? About 1% of men get breast cancer. See a doctor if there is any sign of a lump.
A mammogram is a detailed X-ray picture of breasts that examines suspicious area of your breast and reveals tumours that are too small to feel by hand.
Does a mammogram hurt?
Pain thresholds differ from woman to woman, but according to Megan Silianoff (Cancerwise blogger and cancer survivor), it hurts less than drawing blood.
See you on 25 October at this year’s Justine Ithemba Walkathon!