Putting Health in Your Hands: Self-Examinations
Many medical professionals agree that beginning breast self-exams (BSE) in your 20’s is ideal. This is a way that you can learn what your breasts normally feel like and makes it easier for you to notice any changes in the way your breasts look or feel. Your breasts will feel differently depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle. For this reason, it is best to do your self-examination after your period. The benefit of self-examination is early identification of breast cancer. According to a 2012 study published in The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, breast cancer incidence is highest for women of European descent in the U.S.
However, women of African ancestry have a higher incidence of cancer diagnosed before age 40 and have tumors with more aggressive features which limits therapies and leads to poorer outcomes.
When breast cancer is identified early, there is a much greater chance of survival. If you notice any changes with your breasts, you should contact your physician for further examination.
AMERUCAN CANCER SOCIETY: MNEMONIC = 7 “P”S
You should perform the BSE in both a standing up and lying down position.
Look to see if your breasts are symmetric. While few women have perfectly symmetrical breasts, a 2006 study published in Breast Cancer Research , found that greater breast asymmetry was related to an increased risk for breast cancer. Nevertheless, keep in mind that one side is usually slightly different from the other and minor differences should not cause alarm.
Visualize the breast as a “clock”: 12:00, 3:00, 6:00 and 9:00. Using the flat parts of your fingers (the pads), apply firm, circular motions, palpate the breast tissue from the collarbone, all the way down to the bra-line and around to the arm pits. However, just because you feel a lump does not mean it’s cancer. The breast is made up of fat which is often lumpy. You need to know where your normal lumps are and if they are changing.
Use light pressure on your breasts the first time around, then firmer pressure the second time. Avoid using the tips of your fingers and instead use the pads, which have many nerve endings and are very sensitive.
The smoothest skin on a woman’s body is over the breasts. There should not be any dimpling or retractions on the skin.
Learning about what is normal and abnormal takes practice. Feel and learn what is normal for you so you can be aware of any changes.
The best time to do your BSE is after your period. Before and during your period breasts tend to be more lumpy and painful. Wait until your hormones are at their baseline, which is usually after you finish your period, before checking your breasts. For women who are menopausal, use the calendar as a reminder to check your breasts once a month.
CHECKING UNDER THE ARMS
The breasts are triangularly shaped and reach under the armpits, which is why you need to check under the arms. You need to check under the armpits for lymph nodes which are similar to the lymph nodes/glands in your neck that can become enlarged when you get sick with a cold or sore throat. Lymph nodes are approximately the size of raisins, so anything firm and bigger than a raisin needs to be reported.
For more information about cancers visit:
For further instructions on how to perform a breast self-examination visit:
For further instructions on how to perform a testicular self-examination visit:
Winter 2013 | Vol. 13 | Issue 2