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Breast Self-Exam Techniques

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Performing a regular breast self-examination is a great way for women to become familiar with the look and feel of their breasts, making it more likely that any changes occurring in the breast will be picked up sooner. A breast self-examination is performed at home through a simple yet structured process of examining the breast tissue using both look and touch.

  1. How to Perform a Breast Self-Examination.

    LOOK

    Stand in front of a mirror with your shoulders back and your hands on your hips. Take note of the shape, size and colour of the breast tissue. Then raise your arms, linking your hands together above your head. Take note again of the size, shape and colour of the breasts.

    TOUCH

    Standing with your left arm elevated, use your right hand to feels for changes in the left breast. Using the pads of your first three fingers work your fingers in small circles around the entire breast area to check for changes in how the breast tissue normally feels. To make sure you don’t miss any part of your breast, adopt a routine that you will remember, whether it is working from the nipple out to the outer areas in a circular motion, or moving in horizontal or vertical lines. Also remember to check the different layers of breast tissue, using lighter pressures for the tissues just beneath the skin and deeper pressures to get to the tissue that rests close to the rib cage. Repeat this process on your right breast. Finally, repeat this process lying down. Lying flat with your arm above your head spreads the breast tissue evenly across your rib cage and make detecting any tissue changes more likely.

  2. What to Look for During a Breast Self-Examination.

    During the breast self-examination, look for changes in shape, contour, size or colour of the breast tissue and nipples. Any dimpling, puckering, bulging or changes in skin texture should be noted. Check for breast swelling, soreness, redness or rashes. Also check for specific changes to the nipples such as inversion, redness, a scaly appearance or discharge. While many women have tender spots or lumps in their breasts that are not a health concern, all lumps and tender spots should be examined by a health practitioner. The goal of the breast self-examination is to detect anything new or different that may be happening in the breast area. As such any changes found during a routine breast self exam should be reviewed by your local doctor.

  3. When to Perform a Breast Self-Examination.

    All women above the age of 20 (even if they are pregnant, going through menopause or having hormone treatment) should become familiar with the look and feel of their breasts by performing regular breast self-examinations. If you have a regular menstrual cycle, the best time to perform a breast self-examination is a few days after your period, when your breasts are likely to be less tender or lumpy. If you are postmenopausal, perform your breast self exam on the same day of every month.

While performing a regular breast self exam means that you are more likely to detect any changes that may be occurring in the breast tissue, it doesn’t necessarily determine or negate the presence of breast cancer. The breast self-examination should always be used in conjunction with regular clinical breast examinations. It is recommended that women in their 20’s and 30’s should have a breast exam performed by a health care provider every 3 years, and for women over 40 a clinical examination is recommended annually. If you have a history of breast cancer in your family, seek further advice from your doctor as to the best screening methods for your situation.

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