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Breast Self-Exam Guide

Breast Self-Examination and Breast Self-Examination with Breast Implants

 

 

No one knows exactly what causes breast cancer, and it is difficult to predict who will get it.  Performing a monthly breast self exam is a very useful screening strategy for finding any suspicious lump or change in your breast tissue.   Women who regularly examine their breasts with the BSE tend to be more aware of how their breasts normally feel.  They can detect changes including masses or lumps which could be early signs of cancer.

 

Early screening detection as recommended by the American Cancer Society:

  • Age 20-39

Monthly breast self-exam, clinical breast exam every three years. 

  • If you have menstrual periods this exam should be performed a few days after the period has ended.  Normally, after this time your breasts are not tender to touch.

  • Women who are taking birth control pills as contraceptives - do your breast self exam each month on the day you begin a new package of pills.

  • If you are not menstruating or in menopause, breast self exams should be done on the same day each month.  Try to pick a day that is easy to remember - such as the first or fifteenth of every month.

 

  • Age 40-49

Monthly breast self-exam, annual clinical breast exam, mammography every one to two years, baseline mammogram by age 40.

  • If you have menstrual periods this exam should be performed a few days after the period has ended.  Normally, after this time your breasts are not tender to touch.

  • Women who are taking birth control pills as contraceptives - do your breast self exam each month on the day you begin a new package of pills.

  • If you are not menstruating or in menopause, breast self exams should be done on the same day each month.  Try to pick a day that is easy to remember - such as the first or fifteenth of every month. 

 

  • Age 50 +

Monthly breast self-exam, annual clinical breast exam, annual mammography

  • If you have menstrual periods this exam should be performed a few days after the period has ended.  Normally, after this time your breasts are not tender to touch.

  • Women who are taking birth control pills as contraceptives - do your breast self exam each month on the day you begin a new package of pills.

  • If you are not menstruating or in menopause, breast self exams should be done on the same day each month.  Try to pick a day that is easy to remember - such as the first or fifteenth of every month. 

 

 

                                Image showing how to do a breast exam

                                            Licensed image for CosmeticSurgeryForums.com

 

Breast self-exam can seem intimidating at first, but each time you examine your breasts you will become more familiar and comfortable with your breast tissue. As you get to know what your breasts normally look and feel like; you'll be able to notice any changes that may occur. It is normal for breasts to feel lumpy - by identifying your own natural "lumps," you'll be able to tell if something is different.

Take note of the size and shape of each of your breasts, and the position of each nipple. It is normal for one breast to be larger than another. Experts suggest checking about one week after your period. You may want to check with your healthcare provider for the best way to perform the exam.

Check our Interactive Breast Anatomy

 

The American Cancer Society suggests the following procedure:

  • Lie down with a pillow under your right shoulder and place your right arm behind your head.

  • Use the finger pads of the three middle fingers on your left hand to feel for lumps in the right breast.

  • Press firmly enough to know how your breast feels. A firm ridge in the lower curve of each breast is normal. If you're not sure how hard to press, talk with your doctor or nurse.

  • Move around the breast in a circular, up and down line, or wedge pattern. Be sure to do it the same way every time, check the entire breast area, and remember how your breast feels from month to month.

  • Repeat the exam on your left breast, using the finger pads of the right hand. (Move the pillow to under your left shoulder)


If you find any changes, see your doctor right away.

 

                            Breast Self-Exam - manual examination (standing)

                                            2010 Copyright ADAM, Inc. - Used with permission

Repeat the examination of both breasts while standing, with your one arm behind your head. The upright position makes it easier to check the upper and outer part of the breasts (toward your armpit). This is where about half of breast cancers are found. You may want to do the standing part of the Breast Self Exam while you are in the shower. Some breast changes can be felt more easily when your skin is wet and soapy.

 

                            Breast Self-Exam - Manual Examination (reclining position)

                                        2010 Copyright ADAM, Inc. - Used with permission

For added safety, you can check your breasts for any dimpling of the skin, changes in the nipple, redness, or swelling while standing in front of a mirror right after your Breast Self Exam each month.

If you find any lumps, thickenings, or changes, tell your doctor right away. Most breast lumps are not cancerous, but you won't know if you don't ask.

When tumors are detected in the very earliest stages, the survival rate can approach 100 percent.

 

 

                            Breast Self-Exam - Visual Inspection - what to look for

                                         2010 Copyright ADAM, Inc. - Used with permission

 

 

If you have breast implants, you should perform breast self-examination monthly on your implanted breast. In order to do this effectively, you should ask your surgeon to help you distinguish the implant from your breast tissue.

Press firmly inward at the edges of the breast implants to feel the ribs beneath, checking for any lumps or bumps. However, be careful not to manipulate (or squeeze) the valve on the implant excessively, which may cause valve leakage and make the breast implant deflate. Any new lumps or suspicious lesions (sores) should be evaluated with a biopsy. If a biopsy is performed, care must be taken to avoid puncturing the implant.

 

 

 

 

PROS:

  • The benefit of breast self-exams is the potential to identify and treat a cancerous breast lump while it’s still small and in an early stage of development

  • Patient might need a biopsy to evaluate an area of concern

CONS:

  • If the biopsy results are non-cancerous (benign), some might feel that this invasive procedure was unnecessary.

  • Breast self-exams may also be challenging if you have normally lumpy (fibrocystic) breasts.

  • Breast self exams can potentially miss tumors - as well as other methods of cancer screening

  • It is very important to not rely on just "one method" of screening for breast cancer.

 

 

 

A combined approach to breast cancer screening including the following:

 

 

 

 

Breast Cancer Links:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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