Performing a Breast Self-Exam

Gainesville's preventive care physicians at All About Women discuss the how to perform a breast self-exam

If you've ever been to even just one preventive or well woman visit, you know that you should be checking your breasts at the same time every month to check for abnormalities.

Checking your own breasts monthly is one way to ensure early detection of breast cancer and early detection is the best way to beat breast cancer. In fact, the National Cancer Institute reports that the five-year survival rate for women whose breast cancer is detected and treated early is 98%.

And yet, many of us forget to conduct this all important step — we're too busy, forgetful, scared, or we just can't remember how to do it. Continue reading for a quick refresher course on checking your own breasts for signs of cancer.

Performing the Exam

1. Look: Become familiar with the way your breasts usually look. Stand in front of a mirror to examine your breasts, first with your arms at your side, then with your arms raised high overhead.

Finally, examine your breasts while placing your hands on your hips and flexing your chest muscles. Each month, you should look for:

  • Changes in the nipple or in the contour of the breast
  • Dimpling of the skin
  • Swelling

2. Feel: You can perform your exam in the shower, but many women are able to better feel the unique characteristics of their breasts while lying down. This position allows the breast tissue to spread evenly along the chest cavity.

While lying down, place a pillow under your right shoulder and place your right hand behind your head. Use your left hand to feel your breasts: you can use small, circular motions, or move your fingers in small strokes up and down. Begin at your armpit and work across your breast from top to bottom, using light, medium, and firm pressure.

Finally, check your nipple for any lumps or discharge. Repeat this procedure for your left breast.

Performing your Breast Self-Exam doesn't have to be a dreaded experience. Make it a time that you take for yourself each month that also includes some extra pampering, like a soak in the bath or a skin treatment. Or you can just make it a short and sweet exam performed in your shower on a day you'll remember, like the first Monday of every month.

Choose a way of performing the exam that's going to work the best for you and feel the most comfortable. Pick a time of month that you'll remember and write it on your calendar. If you notice any new abnormalities in your breast, make sure to contact your doctor right away. Not all abnormalities mean cancer, but they all should be examined by your women’s preventive care physician to make sure cancer is not the cause.

In addition to your monthly exam, you should receive a preventive care checkup every year, during which your physician will perform a clinical breast exam similar to the one you perform at home. Your monthly checking of your breasts will help you and your physician have a more knowledgeable dialogue about the landscape of your breasts.

And based on your age and health history, your preventive care provider will also let you know if you need to schedule a mammogram or ultrasound.

The knowledgeable and competent staff at All About Women is here to provide compassionate preventive care for women (/preventive-care-services.html) of all ages in Gainesville, Lake City and other communities around northern Florida.

If you have questions or concerns about your breast health or how to perform a breast self-exam, don't hesitate to contact us today to schedule an appointment.