Have you noticed the age to start breast self-exams is getting younger and younger? You may find it surprising that Doctors are now recommending breast self-exams at age 20! There are mixed reviews on whether or not self-exams can indeed detect breast cancer. Doctors still believe there is value in self-exams and stress the importance of women being familiar with their breasts. Although this may seem young to you, Doctors have found that it's helpful starting then (rather than later) to detect any abnormalities or changes in the breast which can increase your odds of early detection.
Why it's Done
A breast self-exam for breast awareness helps you understand your breasts' normal look and feel. It's important that you know your own body and recognize any subtle changes.
Regardless of your age, it's essential to notify your doctor if you see any abnormal changes in your breasts or if you notice one breast is different when compared with the other.
Many conditions can cause changes in your breasts, including breast cancer.
Although the breast self-exam technique isn't always a reliable way to detect breast cancer, a significant number of women report that the first sign of their breast cancer was a new breast lump they discovered on their own. For this reason, doctors recommend being familiar with the normal consistency of your breasts.
Breast Self-Exam Tips
The Mayo Clinic is regularly acknowledged as among the very best for cancer research. They note that breast cancer survival rates have increased, and the number of deaths associated with this disease is steadily declining. There are many reasons for such a decline (i.e., earlier detection, new personalized approaches to treatment, and better understanding of the disease). The Mayo Clinic also provides invaluable information, such as breast self-examination tips!
Begin with a visual examination of your breasts
Sit or stand shirtless and braless in front of a mirror with your arms at your sides. To inspect your breasts visually, do the following:
- Face forward and look for puckering, dimpling, or changes in size, shape, or symmetry.
- Check to see if your nipples are turned in (inverted).
- Inspect your breasts with your hands pressed down on your hips.
- Inspect your breasts with your arms raised overhead and the palms of your hands pressed together.
- Lift your breasts to see if the ridges along the bottom are symmetrical.
If you have a vision impairment that makes it difficult to visually inspect your breasts, ask a trusted friend or a family member to help you.
Next, use your hands to examine your breast
Common ways to perform the manual part of the breast exam include:
- Lying down. Choose a bed or other flat surface to lie down on your back. When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out, making it thinner and easier to feel.
- In the shower. Lather your fingers and breasts with soap to help your fingers glide more smoothly over your skin.
When examining your breasts, some general tips to keep in mind include:
- Use the pads of your fingers. Use the pads, not the very tips, of your three middle fingers for the exam. If you have difficulty feeling with your finger pads, use another part of your hand that is more sensitive, such as your palm or the backs of your fingers.
- Use different pressure levels. Your goal is to feel different depths of the breast by using different levels of pressure to feel all the breast tissue. Use light pressure 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. Be sure to use each pressure level before moving on to the next spot. If you're unsure how hard to press, talk with your doctor or nurse.
- Take your time. Don't rush. It may take several minutes to examine your breasts carefully.
- Follow a pattern. Use a methodical technique to ensure you examine your entire breast. For instance, imagine the face of a clock over your breast or the slices of a pie. Begin near your collarbone and examine that section, moving your fingers toward your nipple. Then move your fingers to the next section.
Many women find lumps or changes in their breasts since some of these are normal changes that occur at various points in the menstrual cycles. Finding a change or lump in your breast is not a reason to panic. Breasts often feel different in different places. For instance, a firm ridge along the bottom of each breast is normal. The look and feel of your breasts will change as you age.
When to contact your doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice the following:
- A hard lump or knot near your underarm
- Changes in the way your breasts look or feel, including thickening or prominent fullness that is different from the surrounding tissue
- Dimples, puckers, bulges, or ridges on the skin of your breast
- A recent change in a nipple to become pushed in (inverted) instead of sticking out
- Redness, warmth, swelling, or pain
- Itching, scales, sores, or rashes
- Bloody nipple discharge
While learning all of these helpful tips, it is also important to follow up with your doctor's recommendations, which may include a clinical breast exam, mammogram, and ultrasound.